This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
After the Senate confirms Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., as secretary of the Interior, which could happen as soon as this week, his first trip will almost certainly be to Utah and to the Bears Ears National Monument. When Zinke visits, he will likely get an earful, again, from Rep. Rob Bishop, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee where I serve as ranking member. Bishop has set himself up as Congress' foremost cheerleader for rescinding the Bears Ears designation. In an interesting twist of fate, Bears Ears' supporters have lucked out in their chief opponent.
Despite the fact that he could bring up a bill to rescind the designation himself at any time as chairman, he sets the agenda for the committee Bishop has decided to try to persuade the Trump administration to fight his battle for him. It doesn't take much research to learn that the theory behind this approach is untested and unlikely to succeed.
Bishop is trying to convince the White House that the Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to designate national monuments on federal land already owned by taxpayers, also allows them to rescind those designations. Fortunately for monument supporters everywhere, that power is not mentioned anywhere in the law, and no one has ever attempted to use it. Instead of exercising his own legislative authority and having to defend his actions to his constituents, Bishop would prefer that administration officials like Zinke try to rescind the Bears Ears designation, end up in court defending a legally dubious claim and take the heat themselves.
This is not a hypothetical scenario. Indeed, Bishop acknowledged it in a Feb. 5 National Public Radio segment headlined "Utah Representative Wants Bears Ears Gone and He Wants Trump to Do It." Rather than doing the simple work of introducing a bill, which likely wouldn't have more than a page of text, and then bringing it up in his own committee at his earliest convenience for a debate and a vote, Bishop is egging on the Trump administration from the bleachers.
You might wonder why a powerful and outspoken House committee chairman would urge others to fight his battles. The answer is that in poll after poll, year after year, average Americans express consistent support for national monuments.
The 2017 version of the state-of-the-art Colorado College "Conservation in the West" poll, released after surveying thousands of representative Westerners about key issues, found such overwhelming support for national monuments in seven states that Utah's breakdown 60 percent support keeping existing monument designations, while 30 percent support removing them was the closest margin in the bunch. Let me repeat that for emphasis: Among voters in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming, the closest you'll get to support for rescinding national monument status is a 30-point deficit.
This may explain why, after more than 20 years of sound and fury directed at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Bishop has never done the simple work of introducing a bill to eliminate that monument either.
Bishop and other House Republicans are playing both ends against the middle. Heated anti-monument and anti-public lands rhetoric appeals to a small segment of the public, while never acting on tough talk avoids riling up the huge coalition of Native Americans, hunters, anglers, hikers, bird watchers and public lands lovers who energetically support Bears Ears and our other special places.
Executive action to undermine Bears Ears has already cost the state of Utah its reputation as an outdoor recreation mecca, not to mention millions of dollars, with the Outdoor Industry Association's recent decision to move its massive trade show out of the state. Zinke might do well to take note: Just because House Republicans are holding the door open does not necessarily mean you should walk through.
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., represents the Third District of Arizona. He is ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources.