Top Interior Department officials, including Secretary Ken Salazar, slammed Utah’s elected leaders Tuesday for waging a campaign to take control of most federal lands, arguing the move is nothing more than a political stunt to appease conservative voters.
And at the same time, Salazar promised to return to the Beehive State in the next few weeks to tout agreements on two new gas fields expected to bring nearly 5,000 additional wells to eastern Utah.
Salazar appeared at the National Press Club on Tuesday, delivering a campaign-style speech in which he outlined what he considers the real-world energy solutions of the Obama administration, while deriding House Republicans for living in a "fairy tale."
But before his address, Salazar spoke briefly with The Salt Lake Tribune about a new Utah law promising a lawsuit if Washington doesn’t transfer all federal lands not designated as wilderness or as a national park to state control by 2014. The effort has the backing of top Utah officials, including Gov. Gary Herbert, Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Rob Bishop, and it emerged as a major theme at Saturday’s state GOP convention.
Salazar sees it all as nothing but show.
"From my point of view, it defies common sense," he said. "I think it is political rhetoric you see in an election year. The fact is, Utah is a great example of where, through the use of public lands, we are creating thousands and thousands of jobs."
U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey also questioned Utah’s anti-fed movement, saying it detracts from efforts to craft consensus on land conflicts on a county-by-county basis — as happened in Washington County several years ago.
"I find it personally disappointing," Abbey said. "It will take a lot of energy, and it’s not going to go anywhere. My preference is to look at the Washington County lands bill as an example of where our energies could be better spent."
Bishop, chairman of a public lands subcommittee, asked if Salazar and Abbey were performing a "comedy routine" and said that Salazar has repeatedly made it difficult for Utah to access natural resources to raise money for public education.
"Their efforts to whitewash what this administration does for the West defies common sense," he said. "We want our schoolchildren treated fairly." Salt Lake Tribune