Utah gov threatens to sue over boundaries
By Krista Allen
Special to the Times
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox threatened to sue the federal government if an agreement cannot be reached on the boundaries of Shash Jaa’.
Cox said at a press conference last Thursday that the state would likely take legal action against the Biden administration if the decision were to unilaterally restore or expand Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments without a collaborative, congressional solution.
Continuing to quarrel over Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante is not what the Utah delegation wants to do, said Cox.
“We’ve got this perpetual lawsuit and it’s so dumb,” Cox said about the Utah delegation, which is tired of lawsuits and tired of fighting.
Cox asked, “Are we going to have the ability for presidents to lock up millions of acres or are we going to force them to actually follow the Antiquities Act and make them as small as possible to protect the actual antiquities?”
Cox made reference to a recent statement from the U.S. Supreme Court suggesting past presidents went to extremes in their use of the Antiquities Act, which was enacted in 1906 to prevent looting of Native American artifacts from archeological sites.
The Act has mostly been used since then to turn public land into national monuments to protect them from commercial development or future mineral exploitation.
“And it doesn’t help anybody,” Cox said. “It doesn’t make anything better. So no, I don’t want that to happen. But if I’m being practical and realistic, and I probably shouldn’t be, that’s what’s likely to happen.”
Cox added he fears a lawsuit and the Utah delegation does not want to go there.
“I’m not encouraging that,” he added. “I’m not posturing as a way to say to the administration, ‘Hey, if you don’t do this, you know, we’re going to sue you.’ But if I’m being practical and realistic … that’s what’s likely to happen.”
Cox was one of the many Utah leaders who met with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland during her recent visit to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
The Biden administration is considering restoring – or expanding – the previous boundaries after they were drastically shrunk under the Trump administration. Haaland is expected to submit a report to Biden soon.
When asked what a compromise between the Utah congressional delegation and the tribes would look like, Haaland said she hasn’t zeroed in on that yet.
“(Former) President Obama worked hard to make sure tribes were part of the decision,” Haaland said. “It’s called collaborative management, making sure we are looking to tribes.”