In what is increasingly looking like a tit-for-tat game of politics, mere days after Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva formally introduced federal legislation declaring 1.7 million acres around the Grand Canyon a national monument, his colleague, Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar, introduced another piece of legislation intended to undermine it.
In a statement, Gosar says his bill, called The Protecting Local Communities from Executive Overreach Act, will “protect property rights, water rights and jobs from presidential abuse of the Antiquities Act” — the federal legislation granting the president executive authority to declare national monuments — but Grijalva says this is just classic Gosar railing against the federal government and touting the agenda of a few small interest groups.
“His opposition is based on myths,” Grijalva tells New Times. “Gosar needs to own up to the fact that he’s on the fringe of every public-land argument we have in this country.”
Whether to establish a national monument for the watershed area around the Grand Canyon is a bitterly contentious debate in Arizona, and lately, Gosar, who is known for his relentless desire to curb “federal overreach,” has stepped up his fight.
Gosar did not respond to a request for comment, but in a recent statement, he claims: “While originally created in good faith, the Antiquities Act has been repeatedly abused in order to appease special-interest groups and bypass the legislative process.”
He believes no president should have the “unilateral authority to create massive new national monuments by executive fiat without local public input [because] it is, after all, the people living near these national monuments who will be the most affected by their creation.”
(The U.S. Supreme Court has considered and upheld the broad powers given to the president under the Antiquities Act three times since it was passed in 1906.)
As he’s done in the past, Gosar then goes on to state that the proposed monument has “significant local opposition” — a claim that environmentalists and Grijalva say is false.
“[Gosar’s] wrong. First of all, local communities have given their input and there’s signifcant support [for the monument],” Grijalva says, “but the premise that if you have some groups opposed to it that are supposedly local [means that] no one supports it is false.”
Grijalva makes a point to mention that his legislation has drawn wide praise from a variety of people and organizations both locally and nationally.
“I know of nothing but overall support for the monument and for protecting public lands in Arizona. I think [Gosar] is just throwing [criticism] out there,” Sandy Bahr, director of the Arizona Chapter of the Sierra Club, tells New Times.
(A 2015 Colorado College study found that 73 percent of Arizonans support monument status for the Grand Canyon watershed.)
"The Antiquities Act has withstood the test of time, helping to protect places such as Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, and Saguaro; it can withstand the short-sighted and uninformed attacks of Congressman Gosar. He truly is out of step with the American people and the people of Arizona when it comes to public-lands protections,” she adds.
Grijalva also points out that when the Secretary of the Interior was considering a 20-year moratorium on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon in 2012 and more than a million people contributed to the public comment period, 85 percent were in support of the action.
“That seems to suggest some level of support nationwide since anyone who supported the moratorium would logically be in support of permanent protection [for the area],” he explains.
Gosar, in defending his stance that the monument has little local support, also suggested recently that Grijalva is using “tribes as political pawns to implement a misguided agenda of extremist environmental groups.”
“It is insulting at best, and a lie,” Grijalva says. “One of the things that he fails to recognize is that the affiliated tribes around the Grand Canyon support the legislation. And they support it because they were the architects of it.
“The area is sacred to tribes, honeycombed with sacred sites and historical sites. The preservation of those is a big top priority of the tribes… Our office didn’t just file a bill, we spent considerable time [drafting it] with the tribes, and it is unique in that it calls for the tribes to have a role in the land-use decisions and long-term planning [for the monument].”
The ironic aspect of Gosar’s comment, he adds, is that “he has consistently ignored what native tribes want. That is his record…Maybe if Gosar and his staff had taken any time to talk to the tribes [about the monument] he would understand that they support it.
“Do you want to know what this is really about?” Grijalva asks. “It’s about mining [interests], in general, and uranium mining specifically.
“Gosar has been [the mining industry’s] water-boy since the time he’s got into Congress…He might try to disguise it, but that’s the water he’s carrying. And to me, it’s a threat to the Grand Canyon’s existence.”
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Read Grijalva's Response to Grand Canyon Watershed Monument Myths: