SALT LAKE CITY — The possibility that the federal government could designate millions of acres in the West as national monuments and off-limits to development is stoking fears and generating resentment in some energy-rich states.
An internal U.S. Department of the Interior document lists 14 sites in nine states that could be designated as national monuments through the federal Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the authority to designate monuments without congressional approval. Three sites in Alaska and Wyoming are listed as worthy of protection but ineligible for monument designation.
The Interior Department insists the document is a product of brainstorming and nothing more.
Many people here are still furious about then-President Bill Clinton's designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 after his administration made public assurances that it had no plans to do so. Conservative state lawmakers on Tuesday moved forward with legislation that would allow the state to use eminent domain to take federal land that they hope will spark a U.S. Supreme Court battle.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar met with Western governors over the weekend in Washington to assure them that President Obama's administration doesn't intend to repeat Clinton's actions.
Republican Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said he doesn't have any reason not to trust Salazar, but it's a harder sell among some state residents.
"The issue in the past is that they told us one thing and did the other. They never have taken into account how important the public lands are in the state," said Vaughn Johnson at a protest Tuesday at the Utah Capitol. "The last time they did that in Grand Staircase, they locked out a lot of ranchers, they locked out a whole bunch of clean coal."
Johnson was one of more than 200 people who showed up to support a measure introduced a day earlier by U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, that would require congressional approval of future monuments in Utah. A similar exemption was granted to Wyoming in 1950.
The Interior Department document mentions two possible designations in Utah — the San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa in the southern part of the state.