This is an archived article that was published on in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz are to be commended for their long effort to bring forth the most comprehensive public lands bill ever crafted for Utah, but if they think they're done now, they probably won't succeed.

The long awaited "Public Lands Initiative" bill attempts to define future uses for 18 million acres of federal lands in seven eastern Utah counties, and it reflects an effort to address diverse issues from economic development to recreation to wilderness protection. It has been a process driven in large degree by elected leaders in those counties, and the result skews toward their desires.

The highlights include:

• Expanding Arches National Park to protect the view at Delicate Arch and turning the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry into a national monument, but not making a monument out of the Bears Ears as desired by a coalition of Indian tribes and environmental and recreation groups.

• Setting aside 2.2 million acres as wilderness, but relaxing the air quality standards in those wilderness areas to allow development nearby.

• Setting aside another 1.9 million acres, including the Cedar Mesa and Bears Ears areas, as "National Conservation Areas," a designation that could still allow oil rigs and ATV trails in some areas.

• Trading federal lands with the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration to bring more income to Utah schools. Some of those lands are within the historic boundaries of the Ute Tribe's Uncompahgre Reservation, which brought a swift rebuke from tribal officials who weren't consulted.

• Giving the counties thousands of miles of disputed "RS2477" rights of way. For decades, Utah and its counties have claimed roads across federal lands under a century-old law, but the federal government, under both Democratic and Republican presidents, has challenged those claims. The issue has been so clogged in litigation that last fall Chaffetz was saying it wouldn't even be addressed in the PLI bill. Their inclusion is a surprise to many and undermines claims that this was an open process.

• Removing the possibility of any future president declaring a national monument within the seven counties. This by itself may be enough for President Obama to veto the bill and/or declare a Utah monument. Bishop and Chaffetz insist it is needed to provide the certainty for those who live and work in and around those lands. But the certainty argument is only used against monument declarations. In fact, Bishop and Chaffetz are not offering certainty on many lands that would become NCAs, where management boards could continue to change the rules.

The most uncertainty can be found in the bill's unabashed encouragement of oil and gas development, which today looks more like a dream than a strategy. When they began the PLI process in 2012, oil was trading at $100 a barrel and eastern Utah was white hot with economic activity. Today, oil is under $30 a barrel, and there is barely a drill rig working in Utah. There is no guarantee oil prices will ever rebound to the point where we get another oil boom. Or even worse, we may see another boom that brings a short-term drilling blitz but long-term environmental degradation after the boom ends.

The bill released Wednesday is clearly labeled as a "discussion draft," and it is important that the sponsors view it that way. They have invested years, but now it is the time for the rest of Congress to study it and act in the best interests of all Americans, who are the owners of this land.

If Bishop and Chaffetz decide they are done compromising, this bill will likely die and all the good things will die with it. Here's hoping this long process still has some legs.