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Mike DeBernardo, KSL TV

Sen. Elizabeth Warren pledges to end drilling, restore Bears Ears, Grand Staircase if elected president

By Lisa Riley Roche, KSL | Updated - Apr. 15, 2019 at 6:04 p.m. | Posted - Apr. 15, 2019 at 9:01 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Just two days before a campaign stop in Utah, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., promised if she's elected president, she'll restore the state's Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

In a post, Warren also pledged that "on my first day as president, I will sign an executive order that says no more drilling — a total moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases, including for drilling offshore and on public lands."

Her public lands positions were criticized as out of touch by officials from the counties where the monuments are located.

"She has no idea what she's talking about," Garfield County Commission Chairman Leland Pollock said. "Elizabeth Warren would be the worst thing that would ever happen to public lands, I can tell you that right now."

Pollock said President Donald Trump shrunk Grand Staircase-Escalante in Garfield County and Bears Ears in San Juan County in response to requests from Gov. Gary Herbert, the Utah Legislature and other Utah elected officials.

"It's nonsense to say the state of Utah didn't want this. We asked for this," Pollock said. "This is not a communist country. You have to rely on what's made this country great, and that is your elected officials."

San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams referred to the controversy surrounding Warren claims of Native American heritage, asking, "Does she think she's part Navajo now?"

Adams, who said he was "making fun of her because she's not honest," said Utahns should be careful about supporting her policies because nearly 70 percent of state lands are under federal control.

Restoring the original monument boundaries would only hurt the sites, Adams said, by bringing more people and more damage to what members of the Navajo and other Native American tribes consider sacred land.

Utah Diné Bikéyah spokesman Alastair Lee Bitsóí said Warren's call for restoring the national monuments is appreciated and is a position supported by the majority of the San Juan County Commission.

"It is very encouraging to hear congressional leaders like her are finding the narrative behind Bear Ears is important," he said. "Her recognition is actually acknowledging the work we are doing."

The nonprofit group formed to push for protections for Bears Ears had no comment, Bitsóí said, about Adams' reference to Warren identifying herself in the past as American Indian, something she apologized for earlier this year.

Warren, scheduled to appear at The Depot in Salt Lake City at a free event open to the public at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, slammed the president's public lands policies in the post.

"The Trump administration is busy selling off our public lands to the oil, gas and coal industries for pennies on the dollar — expanding fossil fuel extraction that destroys pristine sites across the country while pouring an accelerant on our climate crisis," she said.

Today, we hand over drilling rights to fossil fuel companies for practically no money at all — and then turn around and charge families who make the minimum wage more than a day’s pay to access our parks.

–Elizabeth Warren

Trump traveled to the Utah Capitol in December 2017 to dramatically reduce the size of the national monuments put in place by two of his Democratic predecessors, Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Warren said she "will use my authorities under the Antiquities Act to restore protections to both monuments and any other national monuments targeted by this administration."

Trump's 2017 action, she said, reduced the nation's protected lands by more than 2 million acres, "the single biggest rollback of protected lands in U.S. history," and a move that potentially opened up the Utah monuments for mining and drilling.

Such activities on what had been protected lands "will cause irreversible damage. These lands are part of our national fabric, sacred to tribes and beloved by American families," Warren said.

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, said Warren wouldn't have the power as president to halt further oil and natural gas development on public lands through an executive order.

"She's just parroting talking points from the environmental lobby and displays no actual knowledge of public lands issues," Sgamma said. "Just banning it on public lands is not making that energy demand go away."

The Trump administration is being sued over the reductions in the Utah monuments by the Utah Diné Bikéyah and others, including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, speaks during the National Action Network Convention in New York, Friday, April 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

"We think it's certainly an issue that should be kept on the national stage until it's undone, whether that's by a new administration or by the courts," said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the wilderness alliance.

Warren's public lands platform also said no fees should be charged to enter taxpayer-funded national parks. That will help "to ensure that visiting our nation's treasures is within reach for every American family," the senator said.

"There’s no better illustration of how backward our public lands strategy is than the fact that today, we hand over drilling rights to fossil fuel companies for practically no money at all — and then turn around and charge families who make the minimum wage more than a day’s pay to access our parks," she said.

Warren addressed the billions of dollars in deferred maintenance at the nation's national parks and shortfalls in funding public land management agencies, which have resulted in infrastructure issues including the closure of hiking trials.

"It’s not just an embarrassment. It’s also poor stewardship of a hugely valuable economic resource. So let’s fix it," the senator said, committing to providing full funding and catching up on needed spending in her first term in the White House.

Her post also called for a "turbocharge" of the AmeriCorps program, boosting the budget to help pay for some 10,000 new jobs for young people and veterans maintaining federal lands.

Warren, one of more than a dozen declared Democratic presidential candidates for 2020, is scheduled to make two stops in South Carolina Monday before heading to Denver on Tuesday and Salt Lake City on Wednesday.

Last year, she held a fundraiser at a downtown Salt Lake City restaurant.

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