Washington D.C. Dysfunction Harms Utah

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A lot of media attention in recent days has gone to the drama over the potential of a partial shutdown of the Federal Government.

Please know that if the federal government shuts down, Utah is prepared to keep our federally funded programs operational and our national parks and forests accessible.  

And Utah’s world famous ski resorts will remain fully operational even though many of them operate in part on public lands. For live info on what parks are open and accessible look here.

There was another drama that may have only been a sideshow in Washington DC, but was a tragedy for Utah.

Earlier this week a package of ten very important bills for Utah, some of which have been years in the making, finally made their way to the floor of the United States Senate.

These Utah-specific bills had been drafted and sponsored by the members of our congressional delegation. They had been heard, debated on, marked up and passed by congressional committees through regular order, and each one of them had passed at least one house of congress.

These bills resolve many important federal public land issues throughout the state.

Some were small, but important to those affected — like a conveyance of unused federal land in the town of Nephi that would benefit the Juab County Special Service Fire District.

Many were broadly supported and timely, like legislation that would have elevated the Golden Spike National Historic Site to a National Historical Park just in time to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in Utah.

Similarly well-timed for the upcoming 150th anniversary of John Wesley Powell’s exploration of the Green River was the creation of a new John Wesley Powell National Conservation Area on federal land rich with paleontological, environmental and cultural assets adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument.

And others were just common sense good ideas, like the creation of a new national recreation area that would not only increase recreation opportunities, but it would protect the Ashley Springs area that provides water for 20,000 Utahns in the Uinta Basin.

One of the most significant bills — worked on over many years — was the Emery County Public Land Management Act.

This bill took federal lands that have long been protected as Wilderness Study Area — meaning that this land was already managed and protected as wilderness — and made it a permanent wilderness area.  

In so doing, it didn’t alter the use of those lands, but it would have swapped out thousands of acres of lands within those study areas that are held in trust for our school children. This common-sense swap would have given our state school trust fund more profitable land around the state, thereby creating significant new additional revenue for our school children.

In addition to these specific wins for Utah, the package also included a number of high priority sportsmen provisions that benefit hunters and fishermen.

It also permanently reformed the Land and Water Conservation Fund to the benefit of the states.

Was this legislative package perfect? No. But it may have been the best opportunity we have seen in years to accomplish sound policy based on clearly articulated state policies through bipartisan compromise and negotiation between House and Senate Republicans and Democrats.

Similar congressional clumsiness stalled a historic water agreement between Utah and the Navajo Nation which has been 15 years in the making and has no opposition.

But because of how Washington (doesn’t) work, these bills came to the floor of the Senate at the very last hour. They got caught in the swirl and dysfunction of debates about funding the federal government through a massive continuing resolution. They came to the Senate floor when emotions were high and time for deliberation was scarce. As a result, they were not even able to be voted on by the Senate.  

We hope that the next Congress will set aside ideology and personal differences,  take up these important legislative initiatives and expedite their passage in the New Year.