Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is visiting Utah this week to determine if Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument should lose its national monument status or have its boundaries reduced. We welcome Secretary Zinke, and we want him to know that many residents of southern Utah value our monuments and desire to keep Grand Staircase National Monument in its current state and size.
Utah politicians have promoted the dismantling of the monument since its inception in 1996. They claim that boundary adjustments or a retracting of the monument status is necessary to protect the “prosperity, health, safety, and welfare” of the residents of Garfield and Kane Counties. This seems outrageous since personal income in communities bordering the monument has doubled since 1990 and personal per capita income in Garfield county outperforms the Utah average. I have visited Escalante many times over the last decade. Each time, I am amazed by all the new construction and businesses. In the past few years, a beautiful new clinic and pharmacy has opened. Several new markets, hotels, motels, cabins, RV parks, restaurants, outfitters, a large home store, and numerous touring businesses have sprung up.
Those who wish to dismantle the monument claim that jobs have been lost due to the monument’s establishment in 1996. This argument fails to mention the many jobs gained. The monument’s neighboring communities have experienced an economic transition, leaving behind one based solely on ranching, agriculture, and resource extraction. Today, the economy benefits greatly from increased tourism. The Escalante Chamber of Commerce reports that the area is experiencing an economic boom. Businesses are reporting record years. Finding enough people to fill jobs has become the problem.
Our politicians also argue that the Kaiparowitz Plateau contains 7 billion tons of coal. Coal mining is dirty and dangerous, and its energy conversion further compromises human and environmental health. It is ridiculous to claim that mining coal is essential to the “health, safety, and welfare” of the area’s residents. Since the 1990s, when the assessment of coal deposits were made in the Kaiparowitz Plateau, the US has moved toward new, renewable sources of energy that are not nearly so destructive to our health and environment. To dismantle one of our nation’s most beautiful monuments in order to extract resources that threaten workers’ health is an irresponsible, disingenuous, and immoral proposal.
As House Minority Leader Brian King (D–Salt Lake City) stated, “Those individuals who claim to represent us are not doing so.” They do not represent the businesses benefiting from Grand Staircase National Monument. They do not represent communities that benefit from clean air and water. However, campaign funding suggests that our politicians do represent something — the oil, gas, and mining industries that seek to carve up and profit from our public lands.
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