But the third-term Utah Republican congressman told local voters that he won’t use any powers – supernatural or otherwise – to influence the shape that an ongoing public lands initiative may take.
Speaking at an April 21 campaign event in Moab, Chaffetz said he and Rep. Rob Bishop don’t believe they should be inserting themselves into the process at this point.
Instead of telling local citizens or officials, “This is how it’s going to be,” they believe the initiative should be driven primarily at the county level, he said.
“We want a bottom-up process,” he said.
Chaffetz is one of three GOP candidates who are hoping to be their party’s nominee this year for the state’s 3rd Congressional District seat. He passed through southeastern Utah ahead of the Utah Republican Party’s April 26 nominating convention to drum up support among delegates.
Local resident and self-described liberal Bill Love won’t be among that crowd at the South Towne Expo Convention Center in Sandy. However, when he found out that Chaffetz would be in town, Love stopped by the campaign event to call attention to a recent citizen-led report on the initiative process.
The report focused on letters that local residents submitted to Grand County, and it found that the overwhelming majority of them support greater protections for the area’s public lands, Love said.
Chaffetz said that he supports the concept of multiple-use management, but he acknowledged that others might not hold the same views.
Discussions about public lands management can grow “very emotional” at times, he said. But as he envisions it, a successful initiative process could provide everyone with a clearer direction of future activities on eastern Utah’s public lands.
“Part of what we’re trying to do is change the equation and the tools they have in Washington, D.C., so that we can have more certainty,” Chaffetz said.
Seven counties across the region are currently participating in the initiative process, and among those, Emery and Uintah counties are furthest along, he said.
Grand County has made great progress, as well, and it would be a shame and a missed opportunity if the county fails to reach a consensus on a final proposal, he said.
Disagreements about the value of the federal Antiquities Act could prove to be one of the potential sticking points between local conservationists and others who support the multiple-use concept.
The 1906 law gives presidents the power to create new national monuments on federally owned acreage.
Republican and Democratic administrations alike have used the act to permanently protect large swathes of land and ocean, including places that later became Arches, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton and Great Basin national parks. But Chaffetz said he believes the White House has too much unilateral authority under the act, and he supports congressional efforts to curb those powers.
In the past, congressional delegations from Wyoming and Alaska successfully passed legislation that prevents the executive branch from declaring new monuments in those two states without prior congressional approval.
“It was a smart, brilliant move, and it’s something that I’d like to see happen here in Utah,” Chaffetz said.
Bishop, R-Utah, has introduced similar legislation, but Chaffetz said that bill faces an uphill battle in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats currently hold a majority.
So does Chaffetz’s own proposal to increase private ownership of lands across the West.
The Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act would direct the U.S. Interior Secretary to sell almost 3.3 million acres of public lands in the region, including 132,931 acres in Utah.
Chaffetz said he introduced the bill in a bid to reverse current trends, as the federal government buys more and more private property across the country.
As it is, the National Park Service has a backlog of maintenance projects, and the federal government cannot continue to acquire more land when it can’t pay to manage the property it already owns, he said.
He based his proposal on a 1997 report from former President Bill Clinton’s administration, which identified federally administered lands with “no public purpose” that could be transferred to private ownership.
Chaffetz’ bill cleared the House Natural Resources Committee in late January, but he acknowledged that its chances elsewhere are “slim to none” as long as Nevada Democrat Harry Reid remains the U.S. Senate’s majority leader.
That’s good news to Love, who said that Chaffetz did not indicate how local governments would pay to manage any lands they might acquire in the future.
If that happened, Love said he suspects that energy developers would gain control of popular recreation areas, and for that same reason, he’s wary of the public lands initiative.
“I wish it would go away,” he said April 22.
Love wants the president to establish a 1.4-million-acre Greater Canyonlands National Monument, and he fears the initiative would prevent that from happening.
At the same time, he believes that the county is determined to give public lands north of state Route 313 to the potash industry.
“That’s our most important recreation area that we have,” he said.
Chaffetz said April 21 that some areas should be left open to energy development. But other public lands should be managed for recreational activities, he said.