Washington » Gov. Gary Herbert said Sunday he is assured for now that the Obama administration is not moving forward on any plans to designate national monuments in Utah or the West.
Herbert met Sunday with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in Washington, D.C. and pressed him on a document that leaked out last week identifying 14 areas in the West, including two in Utah, where the administration could potentially bypass Congress and name national monuments.
The secretary vowed the document was simply a draft memo looking at pristine areas and no action was forthcoming, Herbert said.
"He's assured me that there is nothing being fast-tracked, there's not going to be any clandestine effort, no midnight surprise of 'hey, we just created a new monument,'" Herbert said.
Talk of potential new monuments in the West, and in particular in Utah, conjures strong memories after President Bill Clinton's administration in 1996 used the nearly century old Antiquities Act to create the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. Administration officials had denied any action was pending only days before the monument's creation.
Herbert, in the nation's capital for a winter conference of the National Governors Association, met with Salazar along with several other Western governors, who expressed fear that the federal government would place more of their states' lands off-limits to development, oil and gas drilling or motorized access.
Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff confirmed Herbert's comments were a reflection of his conversation with Salazar and she reiterated the document was the result of a "brainstorming session" and nothing more.
Herbert says he pulled Salazar aside after the governors' huddle and feels confident the Interior boss won't take any action without consulting state and local leaders and other stakeholders.
"I feel like he's sincere when he says I won't be doing anything behind your back and I want to work with you," Herbert said. "I take him at his word. I believe him, and until he gives me some reason not to believe him, I will continue to trust him."
Salazar also promised to fly to Utah in April and meet with the governor's Balanced Resources Council, a group of environmentalists, former land managers and other state officials, Herbert said.
The governor plans to meet with two other Interior officials in coming days, including Salazar's top deputy, David Hayes, and Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey.