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Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Maryland Democrat build political bridge in Utah

Published: Monday, Aug. 4 2014 2:30 p.m. MDT

Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 5 2014 6:57 a.m. MDT

Utah's top political leaders and rural county officials across the state are vigorously fighting an effort led by environmentalists that calls for the creation of the Greater Canyonlands National Monument. The active campaign seeks the use of the Antiquities Act to set aside 1.8 miliion of acres around Canyonlands National Park to protect landscapes from any more oil and gas development or potash mining.

Last week, a collection of Democratic senators wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to create a conservation "legacy" through the monument designation in Utah.

Such a move would upend a process led by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and Chaffetz to introduce legislation that would designate new wilderness, create recreation zones and carve out places that are appropriate for energy development in Utah. The so-called "Grand Bargain" has involved meetings and field trips with hundreds of stakeholders across Utah, with the idea of hammering out a compromise that would put a lid on litigation over land use.

Bishop has said he believes that as long as the process is moving forward, the Obama administration is not as likely to create a new monument in Utah given the amount of consensus reached among divergent groups.

Chaffetz told Cummings in the roundtable discussion that it is vital Utah begin to have certainty over land use decisions involving the federal government.

"One of the things I want to help drive home is this issue about certainty," he said. "The people here love this land, they care about it. They are not just here to use it and move on. … They live in this world of uncertainty and with the federal government you don't know if you are coming or going. That is what I think is so unsettling. If somehow we can get to a place where they have certainty in their lives, we will have accomplished a lot."

Chaffetz also noted that Obama's declaration of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in 2013 in Cummings' home state of Maryland may have involved some land — but the proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument is 122 times larger.

Afterward, Cummings would not say if he agreed with the premise of the letter sent by his colleagues or if he thought it ill-advised — he said he hadn't seen the letter — but he noted his own understanding of the issue had increased greatly.

"Maybe, just maybe, a visit by a few of them would afford a different perspective and maybe more importantly lead to more balance and a compromise on some of these issues" he said. "It is very difficult to make decisions when you do not have sufficient information."

The pair finished up the day with a visit to Welfare Square to view the humanitarian operations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com, Twitter: amyjoi16

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