SALT LAKE CITY — Environmental groups, conservationists, sportsmen organizations and politicians nearly universally praised a massive public lands bill President Donald Trump signed into law this month for its establishment of wilderness and other key provisions.
In Utah, the bipartisan package that actually cobbled together 100 separate bills will establish the Jurassic National Monument at the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry and transform the Golden Spike National Historic Site into a national historic park.
While many groups lauded the law's provisions to add more permanent wilderness in Utah and set up a national recreation area in Emery County, a lesser known component in the measure provides for a land trade between the Bureau of Land Management and the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.
Under the swap, the BLM will give up 90,000 acres and the trust lands administration will forfeit 108,000 acres in a valuation process that will take a few years to complete.
When the swap is final, the BLM will acquire valued conservation land that includes 21,000 acres in Desolation Canyon and Turtle Canyon in Emery County, 5,400 acres in Horseshoe Canyon in Emery and Wayne counties and 82,000 acres, also in Emery and Wayne counties, in the San Rafael Swell.
School trusts lands will pick up 30 targeted blocks of land — six pieces that have new renewable energy potential or the ability to expand on existing renewable resources.
"Clearly we believe this legislation puts us in a much better position to develop our resources," said Kim Christy, deputy director for the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.
The nature of school trust land holdings are "townships" of 36-square-mile sections granted to Utah by the federal government to provide financial support for public education and 11 other state institutions.
Because those townships are scattered, however, it often makes its difficult for the trust lands administration to develop those parcels for revenue, as required under its mandate.
In particular, when the lands are near pristine or iconic landmarks, Christy said the ideal scenario is to "trade out" those parcels and optimize land development elsewhere.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, pushed for the passage of the Emery County component and said the swap is a victory for Utah's schoolchildren.
_"_An often overlooked, but very important, provision of the Emery County Public Land Management Act consolidates Utah’s school trust lands, generating many millions of dollars for Utah’s schoolchildren," Curtis said. "Lands with minimal development value in Emery County are traded elsewhere in Utah for development, which goes to benefit Utah’s schools, while also creating new jobs throughout the state. I'm proud to support this provision as it's a win-win for Utahns, conservationists, recreationists, and Emery County.”
The nearly 12,000 acres slated for potential renewable energy projects for the school trust land's portfolio will provide a total of 650 megawatts of electricity if successful, Christy said.
One megawatt is enough to provide the energy needs for 750 homes for a year.
The trust lands agency got into its first renewable energy lease in 2012 with the Escalante Solar II project, which covers 189 acres in Beaver County and sends 17 megawatts of energy to Rocky Mountain Power's grid.
Christy said there are 14 active leases with trust lands and five applications that are pending.
"Clearly renewable energy is a growing component of our portfolio," he said.
The renewable energy parcels under the swap are mostly tied to development of new solar resources or to add to existing infrastructure. One parcel in Millard County involves expansion of existing salt dome caverns for the storage of natural gas or propane.
Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy, released a statement on the trust land swap with the federal agency and the renewable energy projects.
“Utah Clean Energy hasn’t dug into the lands bill, but Utah does have some of the best renewable energy resources in the nation," Wright said. "The goal is to find ways to utilize these clean energy resources in a way that preserves our cherished lands, which is a delicate balance.”
Correction: An earlier version referred to the area in Emery County as a conservation area instead of a recreation area.