Drilling and Mining to be Allowed on Former National Monument Land

Bryce Canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Bryce Canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Shutterstock

 

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Ohio Democrats set up gun control website … Women’s rights activists push Florida legislature to ratify Equal Rights Amendment … Minnesota Governor prepares for recreational marijuana.

Public lands that used to be part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah will now be open to mining and oil and gas drilling. About 1,000 square miles of land will also be opened to cattle grazing and recreation like camping. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management said that the changes will support new jobs. “The proposed plan will provide a foundation for economic opportunity, support job growth, and provide a framework for recreation and other commercial opportunities,” said Kimberly Finch, a spokeswoman for the BLM. But critics are worried that increased grazing will create hazardous methane levels, and mining or drilling will cause irreparable environmental damage. “[The plan] clearly ignores public opposition to the management proposals they put forward. We will be losing some incredible places that we have had protected for decades,” said Cory MacNulty, of the National Parks Conservation Association. MacNulty also noted that there is still ongoing litigation regarding the boundaries of Grand Staircase, which was significantly reduced in size by the Trump administration in 2017 when they cut 1,345 square miles from the monument. Last year, the Interior Department rescinded a plan to sell some of that land after widespread backlash from environmental groups.U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah, said that the new plan has the support of elected officials in the state. “These BLM plans represent a continued deference to the input and expertise of states. Responsible economic activity and conservation have never been mutually exclusive goals,” he said. Harry Barber, Grand Staircase’s acting manager, said that the federal government has worked with park management on the plan, which is an attempt to balance the concerns of all who want to use the space. “There are people who graze livestock, people that like to hunt, people that like to hike, people that like to trail run. We’re trying to be fair,” he said. Barber also noted that the land cut out of the monument will not be a “free-for-all” as it is still subject to the standard policies of federally managed land. But David Polly, a paleontologist at Indiana University, said that people may not realize the rules of the land now that the boundaries between the national monument and federal land aren’t as clear. He worried in particular that people might remove dinosaur fossils in the area that will now be open to recreation, or engage in similar activities that would normally be prohibited in a national monument. “It may be accidentally encouraging people to end up breaking the rules,” Polly said. [Wyoming Public Media; Associated Press]

GUN CONTROL WEBSITE | Following chants for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to “do something” about guns in the wake of the recent shooting in Dayton, Ohio House Democrats have launched the website DoSomethingOhio.com. The site has information about proposed legislation, including that which would introduce near-universal background checks for gun purchases, raise the legal purchasing age for firearms from 18 to 21, and create a “red flag” system for removing guns from people with mental health concerns. The site also has the contact information of Republican legislators, along with a script of what to say to them in support of gun control legislation. Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, a Democrat, said that the site was created because “everyone deserves to feel safe” in their communities. “I encourage Ohioans to use DoSomethingOhio.com to get involved and reach out to House and Senate leadership, committee chairs and the governor’s office to demand action on commonsense gun safety. We owe it to our families, friends and neighbors to restore our state’s promise as a safe place to live, work and retire—not fear the next tragedy,” she said. DeWine, a Republican, recently expressed support for both near-universal background checks and red-flag legislation. Republican House Speaker Larry Householder said that it would be “very, very difficult to pass” those measures in the legislature. [Cleveland.com; The Cleveland American]

EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT | Women’s rights activists from five Florida cities are calling on the state legislature to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in the upcoming legislative session. The measure, which would outlaw gender-based discrimination, was passed by Congress in 1972, but needs 38 states to ratify it for it to be adopted into the Constitution; the state count stands at 37 after Illinois approved it in 2018 and Nevada in 2017. Barbara DeVane, vice president for the Tallahassee chapter of the National Organization for Women, said that the ERA is still necessary in 2019. “We want true equality guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. You’re either for discrimination against women, or you’re against it. So, which side are you on?” DeVane asked. State Rep. Dotie Joseph, a Democrat, said that the ERA can help address the pay gap that still exists between women and men. “Over 70% of Americans think equal rights are already protected. News flash: it’s not. This is not a complicated issue. That’s all we’re asking for ... equality and justice for all,” she said. [Florida Phoenix; WJCT; Miami Herald]

MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION | Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has ordered state agencies to make preparations for recreational marijuana legalization, which could happen in the state if the legislature there approves a bill next year to make recreational pot legal. “My agencies have been tasked to put all of the building blocks in place, from Revenue to the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Health. We will have everything ready to go, and we will be able to implement it in Minnesota the minute the Legislature moves this,” Walz said. Marijuana legalization legislation faces tough opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said that he has no interest in revisiting the issue. “It’s my position that it’s not good for Minnesota. It’s dead as far as I’m concerned in the Senate for next year,” he said. House Democrats are still working to push the policy  forward. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said he plans to be the lead sponsor for the bill next session, and will listen to public concerns before introducing anything. “We’re going to around 15 listening sessions around the state to hear people’s interests and concerns about cannabis legalization. I think most of us who have looked at the issue think that legalization is the path we have to take. But I don’t want to prejudge that until we’ve had that conversation with Minnesotans,” he said.[Minnesota Public Radio; Marijuana Moment]

‘WHITE CITY’ CANDIDATE DROPS OUT | A city council candidate in Marysville, Michigan, dropped out of the race after she received an abundance of criticism regarding her statement that the town should remain a “white community as much as possible.” City Council candidate Jean Cramer said that while she does not consider herself a racist, she doesn’t think interracial marriage is appropriate, and believes her community, which is 95% white, should remain that way. “As far as I know, as long as we’ve been here, Marysville has been a white community, a white city,” she said. Cramer was condemned by local leaders, including Kevin Watkins, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, who said that he believed Cramer was emboldened to speak her views now because she was “taking a play out of the Trump playbook." The mayor of Marysville, Dan Damman, said he appreciated that Cramer withdrew from the race. “My hope is that she realizes that with her ideology she is not fit for office in Marysville or anywhere else...[This] just tells us that as far as we have come as a society, there is still a very disappointing, close-minded, oppressive viewpoint out there. And I think we have to have the conversations that make all areas a better place for people of all races, nationalities and origins,” he said. [Port Huron Times Herald; New York Times]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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