Congressman Rob Bishop aims for finality through Public Lands Initiative

Friday , August 12, 2016 - 5:45 AM6 comments

CATHY MCKITRICK, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Congressman Rob Bishop, a seven-term incumbent representing Utah’s 1st District, delivered doses of his trademark sarcasm Wednesday as he spoke about his embattled Public Lands Initiative (PLI) bill, federalism and where he stands on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

An unabashed ideologue about federalism, Bishop called it his mantra and “the solution to our problems.” If he could, Bishop said he would take authority and power away from executive agencies and put it back into Congress “where it ought to be.” And then he’d go a step further and give much of that authority and power back to the states and local governments.

While few have joined him on that bandwagon, Bishop believes he’s found a kindred spirit in House Speaker Paul Ryan, whom he said “realizes that whole idea of the administrative state where decisions are made by experts using sound science is cute, but what happens is it takes away the input of real people into the process.”

Bishop also told the Standard-Examiner Editorial Board he plans to vote for Trump in November.

“I’ve known (Libertarian presidential candidate) Gary Johnson for a long time, he’s not going to be president. I’ve known Secretary Clinton for quite awhile and there is nothing that would happen in a Clinton administration that would be positive for the West,” Bishop said. “With Donald Trump, I don’t really know what he believes, but I’ve got a 50-50 chance.”

For starters, Trump’s vice-presidential pick, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, knows Bishop and shares some of his views on federalism and controlling powers, subjects near and dear to Bishop’s heart

“It would be nice to have someone in there who actually knows who I am,” Bishop said, adding that Pence also has experience with Congress and “can work with us.”

“That gives me a whole lot of comfort about where a Trump administration may go,” Bishop said. “But to say I’m comfortable with it? No.”

During his monthly televised news conference Thursday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert also said he would be voting for Trump. Peter Corroon, former Salt Lake County mayor and current chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, quickly responded, describing Herbert’s declaration as “Unbelievable. Shameful. Appalling.”

In a statement, Corroon blasted Herbert for “voicing public support for a man who has disrespected so many groups of people, even calling for a ban on Muslim migration; a man who would be a disaster for Utah’s economy and cost us up to 95,000 jobs; a man who jokes about gun violence against his opponent; a man who is so clearly unfit and unqualified to be president.” 

PLI stalemate?

When asked if he could have done more to work with opposition groups during the public lands bill’s three years of public hearings and refining, Bishop, who described his own personality as “sarcastic,” answered accordingly.

“The hardest part of those opposed to it is trying to get them to find a real argument instead of the fake ones they’re making right now,” Bishop said. 

And Bishop continued in snark mode, calling three of the seven organizations that came out against the Public Lands Initiative “a pain in the butt.”

“My problem is, I’m trying to get people to compromise who have never compromised in their lives. And indeed if you actually compromise, some of them will be out of business,” Bishop said of the wilderness and conservation groups that have lobbied to protect public lands in the seven eastern Utah counties which are part of the Public Lands Initiative — unless they opt out, as Grand County appears poised to do.  

Learn more about Bishop’s PLI bill.

But Wayne Hoskisson, a Moab resident and volunteer leader with Utah’s Chapter of the Sierra Club, holds a different perspective. 

Hoskisson, a lifelong Utahn whose ancestors arrived in the state in 1847, said he began participating in PLI sessions in March 2013 and made it to meetings in six of the seven counties. 

“When we first started, we thought it was his intention to create a public lands bill that would be of such magnitude and compromise that it would make the thought of a national monument unnecessary, and that we might get a bill we could support,” Hoskisson said.

“But in the end, he turned control of the process over to county governments” but then ignored input from three of them, he said. ”It became clear he wasn’t interested in input from the conservation community.”

Hoskisson: “Public Lands Initiative is a step backwards”

The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club abandoned continued attempts at compromise, and backed by the national Sierra Club, now supports the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition’s call for President Barack Obama to declare the Bears Ears area a national monument under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

“Right now we’re not involved in the (PLI) process,” Hoskisson said, “but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t talk to Bishop if he would come back and make significant changes. But he’s unwilling to listen to our concerns.”

Hoskisson recalls how the Inter-Tribal Coalition got its start in the summer of 2015. 

“The Sierra Club has known about Bears Ears for a long time. We knew there was a group of Native Americans, primarily Navajo, who have been studying their culture and landscapes around southeastern Utah,” he said. “I was at a meeting in Bluff last year where Mark Maryboy, a Navajo community leader, welcomed all the tribes back home.”

In addition to the Navajo Nation, that assembly included the Hopi, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian tribes

“At that point, the tribes started to coalesce and hired an attorney to represent the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. The Sierra Club donated funds to this group*,” Hoskisson said. “We’d do the same for anybody sympathetic toward conservation.”

*Editor’s note: After the original publication of the story, it was clarified that the Sierra Club's donation to the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition came in the form of travel, housing and other expenses associated with the April 2015 Bluff meeting. And they hired an attorney for consulting purposes who agreed to work pro bono.

Quid pro quo?

According to the Center for Responsive Politics’, most of Bishop’s campaign funds flow from outside the state and outside the 1st Congressional District, his top donor being the oil and gas industry.

When asked if any energy companies were waiting in the wings to take advantage of new areas opened to economic development if PLI passes, Bishop scoffed at the notion.

“There is no quid pro quo, never has been, never will be. In the time I’ve run for Congress, I am amazed at how many times people have told me that certain businesses and groups own me,” Bishop said, rattling off a list that included realtors, the Jewish community in Park City, Energy Solutions, and the oil & gas industry.

“I really wish they’d all kind of work it out to see who really does own me, so I know who actually does,” Bishop quipped. “The bottom line is I’ll take contributions from anybody ... even from pro-abortion advocates. It wouldn’t mean I would change the way I vote or do anything differently. This bill was to create solutions for people, not for businesses.”

Bishop added that PLI deals with economic development in areas that have been identified with that potential as “their highest purpose.”

“To say that we’re taking any other areas that were not identified for economic purpose and making them economic is a ridiculous argument brought up by groups that simply want to destroy everything,” Bishop said.


Defining public lands

Bishop’s Democratic challenger in the 1st Congressional race, North Ogden physician Peter Clemens, disputed the incumbent’s perspective on Utah’s public lands as being too restrictive. 

“First of all, the Public Lands Initiative is a federal bill that deals largely with federal lands. Therefore, as those lands are now constituted, a person in Georgia or Maine has as much right to weigh in on the fate of those lands as a person living in San Juan or Grand County. They are federal lands, therefore they belong to every American,” Clemens said, asserting that Bishop was using Trump tactics to divide people.

“He speaks of people living in Weber County or Davis County as having no interest in the disposition of these lands, when in reality most care about them deeply. For most of us, it's the reason we live in Utah,” Clemens said.

When asked why no PLI hearings were held in Weber or Davis counties, Bishop said in his view, holding hundreds of hearing in the areas that would be impacted “covered it fairly well.”

“The advantage of having a hearing for the fun of having a hearing has no advantage whatsoever. There should be something specific. And in the area where the impact is, that’s where the hearings should take place. We did it the right way,” Bishop said, noting that those interested Wasatch Front constituents could have traveled to attend those hearings. 

According to Bishop’s PLI website, 18 million acres of federal land are included in the bill. Of that total, 4.6 million would be designated for conservation and 1.15 million for new recreation or economic development opportunities. PLI would also establish the Jurassic National Monument.

Bishop also has companion legislation pending to revise the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law he believes sanctions executive overreach.

“The Bears Ears Coalition is funded by outside groups, none of them are part of Utah, none of them are living in Utah,” Bishop said, adding that those groups came to the game late and left when they felt they weren’t being listened to.

Bishop is convinced declaring Bears Ears a national monument is no solution at all. “The PLI has a better way of solving the problem and dealing with the area and providing the benefits for the Native Americans who live down there.”

Clemens, like Hoskisson, has a different take: “In reality, the Native American tribes walked away from the table in December 2015 because they knew that Congressman Bishop was not interested in compromise. They of all people should have had the ear of this congressman, as they have lived on the land longer than any of us.”

Can PLI become law?

Bishop’s bill, HR5780, still awaits a House committee hearing. The non-partisan, bill-tracking organization gives it a 14 percent chance of getting enacted into law.

But Bishop remains optimistic he can beat those odds, and also hopes to insert language involving a co-management option suggested by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which came after Secretary Sally Jewell paid a recent visit to Bears Ears.

Above all, he hopes his paired bills will once and for all end the debate on who controls and manages Utah’s public lands.

“If we still allow the President to play around with that, and to change things later on, then I haven’t done a bill. That’s intellectually bankrupt. I have to have that finality,” Bishop said. “Once I write the bill that is well-written and solves the problem, and once I get it through the House, all of a sudden you’ll see a dynamic develop that changes those preconceived ideas.”

Bishop expects PLI and its companion bill, HR5781, to come up for a vote around the time of November’s presidential election.

“So whatever happens with the election will have an impact on it one way or another,” Bishop said.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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