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Who Really Matters in Utah?


In the debate over Trump destroying the Utah national monuments, there’s been a lot of discussion over who matters in that state. Were these monuments foisted upon the people of Utah, even though the vast majority had never spent any time doing anything at all in the remote desert? Or were they, especially Bears Ears, protecting Native American sites at the behest of those tribes? The racist politics of Utah certainly favored the former and erased the voices of the latter. But who are the people of Utah getting shut out of these places? They are uranium companies and that’s the beneficiary of devastating these spaces.

A uranium company launched a concerted lobbying campaign to scale back Bears Ears National Monument, saying such action would give it easier access to the area’s uranium deposits and help it operate a nearby processing mill, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and top Utah Republicans have said repeatedly that questions of mining or drilling played no role in President Trump’s announcement Monday that he was cutting the site by more than 1.1 million acres, or 85 percent. Trump also signed a proclamation nearly halving the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is also in southern Utah and has significant coal deposits.

“This is not about energy,” Zinke told reporters Tuesday. “There is no mine within Bears Ears.”

But the nation’s sole uranium processing mill sits directly next to the boundaries that President Barack Obama designated a year ago when he established Bears Ears. The documents show that Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc., a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, urged the Trump administration to limit the monument to the smallest size needed to protect key objects and areas, such as archeological sites, to make it easier to access the radioactive ore.

First, color me shocked that the Canadian mining industry, scourge upon the world, is involved here. Second, this is who counts in Utah politics. The areas that are demanding the destruction of the monuments are long-term white mining communities that are poor, have always been poor, and will always be poor so long as they depend on mining. Towns like Blanding are not going to get wealthy if there is all mining all the time. They will remain poor, the Canadian mining executives will get rich, and the land will be destroyed. The only hope to a sustainable economy in this area is through tourism. And I get that tourism has its limitations. But Moab has become the economic driver of southeastern Utah and for all the problems with a lack of high-paying jobs, there’s no evidence that letting the uranium companies do whatever they want–along with other mining companies and the fossil fuel industry–will lead to a better Utah.

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