Environmentalists who say U.S. Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. is too pro-development are wrong, Lujan told Western states reporters Wednesday.
In fact, he said, he will support expanding some national parks or creating new ones, and he supports the concept of creating more wilderness on Bureau of Land Management land. Such wilderness and parks proposals are abundant in Utah.Lujan came to Utah Thursday to research controversy about how much improvement should be allowed at the Hall's Crossing airport on Lake Powell.
And he said the Interior Department in the next few years will push hard to finish nearly completed water projects - such as the Central Utah Project - before it will recommend funding new water projects, such as the Animas-La Plata project that Colorado and New Mexico have been seeking.
Lujan's comments came during one of a series of brief, weekly question-and-answer periods where reporters from different regions have been invited to talk about Interior issues in their areas.
On Wednesday, Lujan was upset about a Washington Post story quoting Sierra Club officials and others saying they feared Lujan is too pro-development because he had described BLM land "as a place with a lot of grass and cows" and had said he saw nothing wrong with animals grazing in national parks.
"Those concerns are not well-founded," Lujan said. "They come about by taking one little phrase here and there. One of the things they mentioned is that I always looked at BLM land like a lot of grass with cows grazing on it. That doesn't mean you don't look at it for recreational potential and other uses. The article just isn't fair."
To show that he isn't too pro-development, Lujan said he would favor expansion of wilderness designation on BLM land and favors creation or expansion of some national parks - and such proposals abound in Utah.
For example, proposals at various stages of development include forming a new national park in the San Rafael Swell; converting Dinosaur National Monument into a National Park; Utah Democratic Rep. Wayne Owens' proposal to double the size of Canyonlands National Park; and proposals by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, and Owens to form between 1.4 million and 5.1 million acres of wilderness on BLM land in Utah.
Lujan said he is not yet familiar enough with such specific proposals to say whether he favors them. But he does favor similar proposed expansion in other areas.
Lujan said he will fly to Hall's Crossing on Lake Powell on Thursday to investigate disputes among the National Park Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, local residents and the Utah congressional delegation.
He said residents want the airport facilities and services improved to possibly help increase tourism - a position also favored by Republican Utah congressmen. But the park service does not want to allow any expansion beyond simple resurfacing or other minor upgrades needed just for its activities at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
"They don't even want to allow beverage machines, which I think is going too far," Lujan said. "The FAA doesn't want to fund any airport improvement unless it serves the needs of the general public and not just the park service."