Mitt Romney, GOP senators question Joe Biden’s 30×30 conservation plan

A section of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monumen.

A section of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is pictured on Friday, May 14, 2021.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

President Joe Biden’s 30 by 30 plan is under attack by a group of GOP senators, including Utah’s Mitt Romney, because of what they say is a lack of transparency.

“Without full disclosure of the details of the 30 by 30 program, its environmental, budgetary, and legal impacts remain unknown and the public is left in the dark. This is hardly the open and transparent process the administration promised,” the senators wrote in a letter to White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory

The 30 by 30 plan: Biden signed an executive order to set aside 30% of the nation’s lands and waters for conservation by the year 2030. The goal is troubling, in particular, to states in the West where so much of the land is already owned by the federal government.

In Utah, for example, nearly 63% of land within its borders, or 33.2 million acres, is owned/managed by the federal government.

Presidential designations of monuments in Utah that happen despite overwhelming political opposition — think Grand Staircase and Bears Ears — set aside vast tracts of land for “protection” and also instill GOP bitterness and distrust as wide open as those landscapes.

What Romney and other senators want: The Utah senator joined colleagues led by Sens. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, in the letter demanding the White House adhere to the National Environmental Policy Act requirements and undergo the proper analysis and public comment period.

“To reach 30% by 2030, hundreds of millions of acres of land and water will be impacted. A program of this magnitude requires solid legal authority and a clear plan, yet the administration has articulated neither, leaving our constituents in the dark. What is clear, however, is the departments are implementing the 30 by 30 initiative without first analyzing the program’s public and environmental impact, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act,” the senators wrote.

The letter asks that agencies refrain from any action in support of the 30 by 30 goal until an environmental review has been completed and the legal authority to do so has been disclosed.

What the senators say is wrong with the Biden plan: Despite the promises of transparency and consultation, the 30 by 30 plan is moving forward without public input, the letter says, and constitutes a major federal action. As such, the letter argues, it requires federal agencies to identify and carefully consider the program’s impact on the environment, economy and people affected. 

The letter also requests federal agencies provide the exact legal authority the Biden administration is using to carry out this initiative by June 15.

“At minimum, it is the administration’s obligation to provide a plan, legal justification, and venue for the public to participate,” the senators concluded.

The Biden plan has raised concern among conservatives, industry, farmers and others — while conservation groups have said there needs to be appropriate funding to make it worthwhile and effective.

Amy Joi O’Donoghue

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