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Democrat Up-Ends What Used To Be A Republican Agenda in House Natural Resources Committee

Photo of Raul Grijalva.
U.S. House Natural Resources Committee
The new leader of the House Resources Committee, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, said he wants the committee's agenda to "go back to basics" on public lands conservation and energy.

A new leader is settling in at the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee: U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva.

“I'm from the West,” said the Arizona Democrat. “I grew up — born-and-raised in Arizona, grew up on a ranch. My daddy was a cowboy and he worked construction. So that runs through me.”

Grijalva says his Natural Resources Committee will operate differently than the committee did during the past four years, when U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop was chairman. Bishop, a Utah Republican, supported the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda and the downsizing of two national monuments in southern Utah’s redrock country, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

By contrast Grijalva’s already planning to investigate those monument decisions. And the committee has already fielded a bill to restore the original boundaries of the Bears Ears. Next week the committee’s first hearing is expected to focus on climate change.

KUER’s Judy Fahys talked with the new Natural Resources chairman in his Capitol Hill office, where Grijalva said Congress needs to hear from monument supporters who say they were snubbed by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who advised President Donald Trump to shrink the Utah monuments.

Raul Grijalva: Central to that decision is the role that whomever he met with and how those meetings occurred and who he didn't meet with and why ignore all those public comments that came in overwhelmingly to leave as is. And for those oversight hearings, Zinke’s gonna have to be here.

If you ask me how it's only going to be different — it’s going to be different because it's going to be normal again. We're going to go back to the basics. This committee will not be supplicants to the administration or to the Interior Department.

Judy Fahys: How does it change because of the kind of record you have as a very pro-environment lawmaker versus the Utah members who have had a very low score on the League of Conservation Voters?

RG: Our jurisdiction — which is about public lands, it's about our oceans, our waters, our wildlife — those all have ramifications on everything in this country of ours. That's the difference.

The perspective I have is the vast majority of the members that will be joining this committee is that there are some values that we've lost: conservation, protection and, yes, there are lands and waters in this country that should not be touched. I firmly believe that. They should be left alone. That's the difference. I don't see it as a commodity. I don't see it as something what can we get out of it, how much can we make and then leave everything else the collateral damage as you leave. No. No.

JF: Energy development: we've heard that energy has really been stepped up during the new administration. How is it going to be different under Raul Grijalva?

RG: Balance. Go back to balance. Go back to the mission — historic mission — of Interior. Multi-use — where you factor conservation, species protection, recreation, hunting, fishing, visitation, preservation, cultural resources — you balance that with extraction. There's no balance right now. That is the fundamental problem, and to reach that sweet spot that balance is the work ahead.

And, as I said earlier, there are some places that should not be touched. And, I think around the monuments, that is to me an area that shouldn't be touched. We should not be digging and mining for uranium around the Grand Canyon. Period. We should not be violating sacred sites for indigenous people in this country. And we should protect our water. Seems simple.

And it seems simple that where extraction does occur, that it's in balance with these other things, that it's not just one part of the mission. So, they have perverted the mission of Interior to make it that it's just “energy dominance” — period — at the expense of everything else. And I think what you'll find different is that we're going to look for their balance.

JF: What about if Rob Bishop becomes Interior secretary?

RG: You know, Rob and I have a healthy respect for each other. I hope he feels the same. He's, he's a worthy adversary, and I hope I am too. We disagree. And everybody knows that. I think if he is seriously being considered for that it would be a departure from this administration to have a man nominated for a Cabinet position that isn't tethered down with unethical and legal problems. It would be a break. [laughing] I think he'd be, he'd be a formidable ... secretary, that we would have to deal with.

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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