This year marks the 114th time a new Congress has convened to make the laws that govern our nation—or not—and it didn’t take long for the shenanigans to start.

Emboldened by their new majority, Senate Republicans made their anti-conservation agenda brutally clear right out of the gate, immediately introducing legislation to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, then peppering it with ugly amendments.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) was typical of its kind.  Her amendment would have effectively opened nearly 21 million acres of the most pristine wilderness lands in the country to oil and gas drilling, logging, and other development.  Though many of the proposed amendments ultimately failed, the portent was clear.

GOP members in both chambers have continued their tired attacks on the Antiquities Act and have (so far) introduced six bills that would undermine the President’s ability to designate new national monuments, such as Utah’s splendid Grand Staircase-Escalante.  Presidents Democrat and Republican have used the act to give first protections to what are now treasured places, among them the Grand Canyon, the Grand Tetons, and four of Utah’s five national parks.

The Beehive is Back in Congress, and It’s Not a Good Look
The news for U.S. environmentalists everywhere is bad.  The Utah delegation, all Republican now that retired Rep. Jim Matheson was replaced by Rep. Mia Love, is especially looking to take advantage. Everything is certainly coming up Utah (a.k.a the Beehive State).

Rep. Rob Bishop has picked up the gavel on the House Committee on Natural Resources.  That means he sets the agenda for what bills get hearings, what bills don’t, and generally runs the proceedings in the full committee.  We expect redrock country—from Bishop’s so-called “Public Lands Initiative” to hurried leasing and expanded lands sales—to be front and center on the dais.

In assuming the chairmanship, Bishop touted his pragmatism and ability to work across the aisle. His budget recommendations, though, are frightening.  He proposes, for example, to eliminate the BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System office which oversees more than 30 million acres of America’s most prized lands (the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is part of it).  He also proposes conveying federal lands to state and local governments without strings—not exactly a pragmatic approach to land management.

The Inquisition
Meanwhile, Rep. Jason Chaffetz took over the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, meaning he can call onto the carpet any administration official he likes in order to question the execution of any policy he disagrees with.  His first weighty order of business as committee chair? Removing all portraits of past committee leaders from the hearing room.  No need for their, shall we say, “oversight” of his proceedings.

But our friends at the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and other federal agencies don’t just have to worry about budgeting their precious time for theatrical spankings at Chaffetz’s hands.  As part of his reign on Natural Resources, Rep. Bishop created a special oversight subcommittee on that panel, too.  Let us be grateful that none of our wilderness units is called “Benghazi Mesa.”

Grazing Uber Alles
Though outnumbered by their House counterparts, Utah’s U.S. Senators are doing everything they can to scramble into the spotlight.  Sen. Mike Lee offered an amendment to the Keystone XL bill to speed oil and gas permitting on public lands and to limit public engagement in the permitting process.  Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Stewart introduced a bill that would give grazing priority over all other uses in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  The legislation would prevent the use of alternative approaches—such as retirement of grazing permits—to deal with management conflicts.

Hatch is now president pro tempore of the Senate, the most senior member of the majority party in that body.  This means several things.  For one, it means he emcees Senate proceedings when Vice President Joe Biden is not around.  For another, it means that after the Veep and House Speaker John Boehner, Hatch is now third in line for the presidency.

Sleep well, my friends . . .

—Jen Ujifusa & Laura Peterson

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, spring 2015 issue)