SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s governor said Thursday that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has signaled that he’s recommending President Donald Trump shrink Utah’s two-decade old Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Gov. Gary Herbert doesn’t specifically know what Zinke has recommended for the 1.9-million acre (7,700-square kilometer) area or Utah’s new Bears Ears National Monument, but the governor said at his monthly news conference, taped at KUED-TV Thursday, that Zinke felt former President Bill Clinton’s 1996 declaration of Grand Staircase-Escalante went too far.
Herbert on Thursday also threw his support behind a newly-unveiled plan by two Republican senators to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
A look at Herbert’s comments Thursday:
Herbert spoke with Zinke last month when the Interior Secretary submitted his yet-to-be-released recommendations on more than two-dozen national monuments to the White House. The recommendations followed a Trump-ordered review of 27 sprawling land and sea areas to see if past presidents misused their powers under a law allowing them to protect the spaces as monuments.
Zinke has said he’s recommending six monuments be left alone, that Utah’s Bears Ears monument, declared by President Barack Obama in December, should be downsized and that the boundaries of a handful of others should be changed.
The Trump administration has not offered more details or indicated when Trump may take action.
Zinke said Clinton’s declaration of Grand Staircase, which caught local leaders off-guard and locked up vast coal reserves, was an abuse and example of an overreaching U.S. government, Herbert said. The governor suggested it should be carved up into two to three smaller monuments “that actually protects the areas that need protection.”
In response to the governor’s comments, Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an email Thursday that the department “has no new announcements on the monument review at this time.”
Herbert didn’t have any details on Zinke’s recommendation for Bears Ears, a 1.3-million acre (5,300 square kilometer) site with ancient ruins and petroglyphs considered sacred tribal land. Herbert has called for the monument to be rescinded, saying the monument is too large and there’s a better way to protect the area.
“The archeologists tell us the biggest thing we need to have for protection is less people going to these sites,” Herbert said. “Yet a monument attracts people to go to the sites. It’s counter-productive.”
Herbert said Thursday that he’s backing a new health care plan by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy and is asking his fellow governors to support it. The legislation unveiled Wednesday would get rid of many of the subsidies and mandates of Obama’s 2010 law. It would provide block grants to states to help individuals pay for health coverage.
Herbert said the plan offers states the flexibility he’s been seeking to let Utah try to improve its health care market and offer affordable coverage without submitting the state to a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Herbert said he wants Utah to ease penalties on the new drunken driving law passed this spring, which will give Utah’s the strictest threshold in the country when it takes effect late next year. Utah lawmakers passed a law lowering the blood alcohol limit for DUIs to 0.05 percent, down from 0.08 percent.
When Herbert signed the controversial new restrictions, he said he planned to call lawmakers back into a special session to make changes and address any unintended consequences. Herbert said Thursday that he’s going to let lawmakers instead work on the issue when they meet for their regular session in January, but he’d like to see a tiered punishment system, with lighter penalties for a DUI between 0.05 percent and 0.08 percent.