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Find KUER's reporting on the races, candidates and more for Utah’s 2018 midterm elections. Click here for our graphics of the U.S. Senate race, 4 Congressional races and Utah ballot initiatives.

Blue Wave Might Drown Utah Public Land Bills In Congress

Photo of Rep. Rob Bishop.
Brian Albers / KUER

The Utah congressional delegation’s public lands agenda took a hit Tuesday when Democrats won a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. But Reps. Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart remain optimistic that some of their legislative priorities will move forward.

The so-called Blue Wave that pushed House Democrats into power means Utah Republican Rob Bishop will lose his chairmanship of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee when the new Congress is sworn in come January. The decision to rewrite the Antiquities Act or overhaul the Endangered Species Act will be in the hands of the incoming chairman, Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona.

Bishop said Tuesday that he isn’t giving up on his public lands and energy agenda.

“One way or another, I’ll figure out a way to do it,” he said, noting that he sometimes negotiates legislation behind the scenes with Grijalva. “Person-to-person, we can still work that out.”

Rep. Chris Stewart does not sit on Bishop’s committee, but he does have bills under its control. One is his proposal to reconfigure the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument that resides within his southern Utah congressional district. The bill would create three smaller national monuments within the original Grand Staircase boundaries, as well as a national park and preserve within one of those monuments.

“Creating a sixth national park in Utah is a bipartisan deal,” said Stewart, who said a compromise is still possible even with the Republicans losing control of the House. “Many Democrats think that’s a good deal as well.”

Stewart said Democrats have eyes on the 2020 elections.

“I think the Democrats are going to eventually be under pressure to have some accomplishments,” he said, “and we would hope to work with them if that’s their desire.”

Environmental groups have a different take on the power shift in the House.

Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the progressive Center for Western Priorities, welcomed a swift shift away from the Republican focus for land and energy legislation.

“Now, Grijalva and his colleagues on the House Natural Resources Committee are poised to bring long-overdue oversight and transparency to the Interior Department,” she said in a statement. “For the last two years, the public has been shut out of decisions that affect America’s public lands.”

Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, counted the congressional power shift among the “slivers of hope” for public lands policy.

“It will be much more difficult for the Utah congressional delegation to move bad wilderness legislation,” he said in a post-midterm newsletter.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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