Just as we don't like neighbors telling us how to raise our children or tend to our homes and yards, we don't like the federal government telling us what we can and cannot do with our lands in Utah. However, time and time again, federal bureaucracy and my liberal colleagues in Washington attempt to do just that. Each year, bills and proposals are introduced in Washington to lock down even more Utah land for so- called "conservation" or "protection."
The federal government owns 66 percent of the land in Utah (compared to a 10 percent or less in eastern or southern states), but that's just not enough for some. This year, another bill has been introduced that aims to tell Utahns how we should use or protect our land. Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois once again has introduced the America's Red Rock Wilderness Act, just as he has -- unsuccessfully -- every Congress since 1996. The Act mandates the creation of 9.4 million acres of designated wilderness areas in Utah, nearly one-fifth of the state's entire land mass. While Senator Durbin and the bill's co-sponsors may profess good intentions, it is preposterous to me that legislators representing other states mandate how we use our land in Utah. It is simply common sense that the people who are closest to the land, those whose lives depend on being able to use its resources, should be the ones making decisions about how it is used and protected.
I strongly oppose the Red Rock Wilderness Act, as does the rest of the Utah delegation, Governor Gary Herbert, state legislative leadership, and rural county commissioners. This week, I spearheaded a letter with Senator Mike Lee, Reps. Rob Bishop, Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart, to urge past supporters of the Red Rocks legislation to refrain from sponsoring this bill. We wrote that "[t]he Act would jeopardize jobs in the energy industry which are among the highest paying in the nation and are substantially higher paying than most jobs in rural Utah."
Utah has a vast abundance of energy resources within our state, and I'm fighting virtually every day to give Utahns more opportunities to develop these lands. Restricting these areas to energy development -- as the Red Rocks legislation would do -- would hurt Utah's economy and give Washington bureaucrats more of a say over our state than they already have.
Now, I'm not against preserving wilderness quality lands. I'm actually working with my partners in the Utah delegation on legislation that provides opportunities for conservation and development opportunities, but this will be done in a locally-driven, transparent process, that gives Utahns a say in how best to preserve or conserve Utah lands.
Regardless of the issue, any legislation dealing with the management of our state's lands ought to be led and championed by legislators who understand Utah and the needs of our citizens. You have my commitment to continue to fight for greater control over our state's lands and to continue to represent the needs of Utah citizens and their livelihoods in Washington.