SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. John Curtis cried foul over the way his Democratic colleagues unveiled a bill Wednesday to expand Bears Ears National Monument to more than its original size.
The Utah Republican also opposes the legislation Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., and Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., re-introduced to expand the southeastern Utah monument to 1.9 million acres.
Curtis floated a proposal in a House Natural Resources Committee meeting on Wednesday requiring seven days public notice before the panel could act on a bill impacting federal lands unless it is sponsored or co-sponsored by a House member who represents that area.
Democrats rejected the amendment.
"They claimed it was outlandish to change a rule ensuring that locally impacted legislators would need to be given any notice, emphasizing that we all worked in good faith," Curtis said.
Haaland said in the meeting she understands the sensitivity of public lands issues and assured Republicans that "there is no secret plan to advance legislation without their knowledge or participation. We are committed to operating this committee in a transparent and open manner."
Curtis complained that a few hours later Haaland, Gallego and 70 co-sponsors introduced the Bears Ears bill affecting only his district and not telling him.
"During the meeting, I sat in a room where not one lawmaker indicated to me the intention of introducing a bill affecting Utah's 3rd District. Even though I represent this area, I was never contacted by the sponsor or any of the exclusively Democrat co-sponsors. To see them introduce a bill, just hours later, was shocking to me," he said.
Curtis said the approach isn't an effective way to resolve public land issues facing San Juan County.
"I hope we can work towards a more productive dialogue and participate in meaningful debate that produces legislation," he said.
Former President Barack Obama created the 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument under the Antiquities Act in December 2016. A year later, President Donald Trump signed an executive order cutting it to 201,876 acres.
Curtis introduced legislation last year that would create the Shash Jaa and Indian Creek national monuments in what was originally Bears Ears. It calls for the president, in consultation with Utah's congressional delegation, to appoint a management council made up of local government and tribal leaders.
Gallego and Haaland said Trump's order is illegal.
The Bears Ears Expansion and Respect for Sovereignty Act would not only protect the land previously designated under the Obama administration but expand the monument to the full 1.9 million acres identified by local tribes as containing sacred artifacts and cultural resources.
"Bears Ears National Monument is a treasure that I've seen with my own eyes," Haaland said. "Part of the mission of public lands is to protect sacred sites and preserve them for future generations, but under the current boundaries at Bears Ears National Monument those sites are at risk of disappearing forever."
Several Native American tribes and environmental groups sued Trump over the downsizing. The case is being argued in federal court in Washington, D.C.