The Utah Senate Thursday approved a bill expressing its opposition to environmental group efforts to place more than nine million acres of public lands in the state off limits to development of oil and natural gas, coal, oil shale and other natural resources.

By 22-3, the Senate voted out legislation (HR Res. 10), passed by the Utah House of Representatives two weeks ago, that "urges Congress not to enact federal legislation designating additional 'wilderness' on public lands within Utah without the unanimous support of Utah's congressional delegation."

The measure also "urges the...Bureau of Land Management not to restrict access to existing public lands in Utah under its jurisdiction through so-called 'wilderness characteristics' options in resource management plans."

"Oil and gas and mining resources are the roots of our economy in Utah. We cannot afford to let environmental elitists and New York politicians lock away these public lands from the Utah public," said state Sen. Mike Dmitrich, the chief sponsor of the bill in the Senate.

"What we're seeing is a rapidly growing prairie fire of opposition to the anti-energy agenda of environmental elites," said Greg Schnacke, CEO of Americans for American Energy, a pro-energy group in Golden, CO. Schnacke formerly was executive director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Utah lawmakers specifically are seeking to block a bill (HR 1919) introduced by U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) to have energy-rich federal lands in Utah designated as "wilderness" and, thus, closed to any kind of development. The measure, which has about 156 cosponsors, has been referred to the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. A Senate version has been offered by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL).

In addition to the legislation, Hinchey in March 2007 called on Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to halt oil and natural gas lease sales of wilderness-quality land in Utah, as well as put a hold on any new drilling on lands that are already leased but not producing. He said there was no need for the Bush administration to lease additional wilderness-quality lands in light of the high number of already-issued leases that are not producing oil and gas (see NGI, March 12, 2007).

Hinchey and environmental groups "think they know better than Utahans how best to use Utah's public lands," said state Rep. Aaron Tilton, the main architect of the resolution. "This resolution sends a clear signal to Washington that public lands in Utah should remain open to agriculture, outdoor recreation and environmentally sound energy development."

Hinkley could not be reached for comment.

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