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Reps. Moore and Westerman: Productivity, not partisanship, protects natural resources

H.R. 803, the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, disregards input from local and state officials — and ignores bipartisan compromise.

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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Over the past few months, countless constituents have approached us with the same question: How can we ensure that our public lands are managed in a way that works for everyone?

On the Natural Resources Committee, we are seeking to address this concern with a spirit of unity and cooperation. We believe that Americans need representatives who will practice bipartisanship, and we are committed to reaching across the aisle to find solutions for natural resources issues.  

This should be simple. Republicans and Democrats actually share a lot of the same desired outcomes when it comes to how the government should manage our public lands. But we have to be willing to put productivity over partisanship.  

Unfortunately, Democrats brought to the House floor a legislative package with major economic and environmental costs for our constituents without a single committee mark-up or hearing. The fact that the bill was scheduled for consideration on the floor before the Natural Resources Committee was even formally organized with its new members is evidence of a broken process.

HR803, the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, disregards input from local and state officials by creating 1.5 million acres of wilderness, the most restrictive federal land classification. As we recover from the worst fire season in recent history, the last thing we should do is make it harder to prevent these catastrophes. The bill also threatens the livelihoods of those who work in extractive industries at a time when our country is reeling from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Natural Resources Committee Republicans attempted bipartisan compromise by offering 54 commonsense amendments to HR803. These amendments would have relieved the financial burdens faced by those who will lose their jobs and prevented agency secretaries from overriding state water laws, among many other provisions. 

With the interests of Utah in mind, Congressman Moore introduced simple amendments that would exempt unhealthy forests from wilderness designations and prevent new land designations from restricting preexisting recreational activity. He also submitted an amendment to strengthen local input in the land designation process. The Democrat-controlled Rules Committee accepted just the last of these amendments for consideration on the floor, while over 50 Republican amendments were denied even a vote. These commonsense amendments were not partisan; they reflected basic American values, and we were disappointed that Democrat leaders chose partisanship over productivity. 

This style of top-down policymaking is unsustainable, and it has serious ramifications for Utahns. HR803 would impede Americans’ ability to recreate and work and restrict local input into land policy. In Utah, recreation is a foundational value and source of economic growth. Northern Utah boasts world-class national parks and destinations for skiing, river rafting, camping, hiking and more, from Flaming Gorge to Bear Lake, and these communities rely on recreation for economic stability. 

HR803 threatens state and local officials’ abilities to make decisions and fully govern their lands. These types of policies would restrict families from biking, snowmobiling, or even pushing a stroller through our public lands, preventing locals and visitors from experiencing our outdoors. It would strip western states of a core component of their industry and local character. 

We still believe there is significant room for bipartisan collaboration on the Natural Resources Committee, and we hope we can return to standard procedure so major legislation goes through a hearing and mark-up process. HR803 serves as a lesson in how one-sided legislation only creates deeper division and prevents compromise and progress on conservation, development and a balanced natural resources policy. America needs our committee to show that we can work together to solve the complex challenges we face. We stand ready to do just that.

Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Arkansas, represents Arkansas’ 4th Congressional District and is the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources. Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, represents Utah’s 1st Congressional District and is a member of the committee.