BRIGHAM CITY -- Congressman Rob Bishop said his effort to broker a deal for use of federal lands that accommodates both developers and environmentalists is going so well, he's afraid to say much about it.
But he did talk about it anyway, briefly, on Monday to a group of leaders from Chambers of Commerce from the Top of Utah.
Bishop has brought together energy companies, local officials, educators and environmentalists in private meetings in an effort to find common ground, accommodating all parties. He has held more than 100 meetings on this issue thus far.
"You can preserve stuff and develop stuff at the same time," the six-term Republican said. "You can have economic development and growth from land that is locked up. You can have the best of both worlds."
He said his effort to accommodate development goes beyond oil and gas resources.
He said he is eager to secure recreational opportunities on federal lands in the future and to generate more tax revenue for state schools as a result of potential development.
Approximately 67 percent of the land in Utah is owned by the federal government, with 12.7 million acres already set aside for monuments, conservation areas and national parks or wilderness study, with about 4.3 million acres being leased for oil and gas exploration by the Bureau of Land Management.
As chairman of a House committee overseeing federal lands, Bishop said he has to regionalize some compromises. His first target is eastern Utah, which is abundant in oil and gas resources. He said the timing for a potential compromise is good with a new Secretary of the Interior and a new Senate committee dealing with federal lands.
His effort comes as state lawmakers are moving ahead with a measure to push the federal government to turn over control of federal lands by the end of 2014.
Bishop likes the approach of a bill sponsored by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, which passed in 2012. The bill makes a case for state takeover of federal lands. He called the approach wise to set a goal of where the state would like to be with control of lands and developing a road map to get there.
He said there is also a growing sense in Washington D.C. that allowing Western states to control federal lands may be in the best interest of Eastern states. He said the biggest issue has been getting Eastern lawmakers to understand how terms translate differently in the West.
"When I talk to people in Michigan and New Jersey, their only interaction on federal lands has been national parks. They think all public lands are Yellowstone. When we talk about public lands out here, we think of sage brush. We're not using the same words," Bishop said.
"If you count all the revenues, it cost $7 billion more to control that land than you're getting in revenue. When guys in New Jersey realize they're pulling $7 billion in revenue out of their pockets, they don't care about controlling Western lands," Bishop said.
He notes there is a new example of how local leaders can better manage federal lands than the government in the Grand Canyon, where the feds have contracted with the state for management of some of the BLM land.