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Hatch tells state lawmakers Trump looking at Bears Ears, Grand Staircase

FILE"” Members of the House of Representatives debate on a resolution to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument during floor time at the Utah State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017.
FILE"” Members of the House of Representatives debate on a resolution to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument during floor time at the Utah State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told state lawmakers Wednesday that even though President Donald Trump may irritate some people, "in a lot of ways, we're taking on things that we've never been able to take on before."

Hatch highlighted Trump's willingness to take a look at the designation of two national monuments in southern Utah by past presidents, the newly designated Bears Ears and the 20-year-old Grand Staircase-Escalante.

He said he spent an hour in the Oval Office with the new Republican president discussing the state's efforts to rescind or at least reduce the size of the monuments, noting that the designation of Grand Staircase shut off a coal reserve.

"I'd like to see us have access to that," Hatch said in the Utah Senate. Mining the clean-burning coal will help the state "taxwise and so forth. It will also help the country when we need that energy."

Later, Hatch told reporters he's "very confident" Trump will rescind the Bears Ears National Monument designation made by President Barack Obama in the final days of his administration.

The president "may very well rescind that, and we’ll work at doing it the way it should be done," Hatch said during the daily state Senate media availability, "in a way that will be just, right and in accordance with feelings of Utah."

Utah's senior senator also said he believes Trump has the authority to create a route to the coal reserves within Grand Staircase by modifying the national monument.

"He would be able legally to create the access to this great treasure that may save Utah and the country someday," Hatch said. The coal would not be mined "at the present time," he said, but instead be "a resource already ready."

Such an action by Trump "certainly would right a wrong that occurred without any consideration," Hatch said, a reference to Clinton's surprise announcement of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Both national monuments have been the subject of resolutions passed by the Utah Legislature that were cited in the decision by the Outdoor Retailer show to leave the state once the current contract ends next year.

In the House, Hatch called Bears Ears a "phony restriction" blocking Utah from developing crucial resources.

"It's a slight to our state, it's a slight to our state Legislature, it's a slight to our state representatives in Congress," he said.

The "most important consideration" in the last presidential election, Hatch said, was who would fill spots on the U.S. Supreme Court. He praised Trump's pick, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch, as someone who will protect religious liberty.

In response to Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, Hatch said of the GOP effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, "the problem is getting all the Republicans together on these matters."

The replacement for the former president's signature health care law would be "less intrusive on all of our lives," Hatch said, and it would "do the job within budgetary constraints."

In the House, Hatch was asked about Trump's plans to expand and speed up deportations of immigrants in the country illegally.

House Minority Whip Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, noted that Hatch in the past had been a "champion" of young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children known as "Dreamers."

"We're living in very trying times," Hatch said, adding that Trump is "not going to go after people who are living right in our country." He said a way must be found "to solve these delicate, difficult problems."

Hatch said he believes "it's been a tragedy, what's happened over the last eight years, with our border being a sieve for anybody wanting to come in, including some criminals."

Trump, the senator said, "has the best interest of our country at heart." Hatch praised the president as "a real doer. He's not a guy that sits back and waits for us to do it."

Contributing: Katie McKellar