FILE – Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Raúl M. Grijalva (center), no date specified | Photo courtesy of the Natural Resources Committee, St. George News
ST. GEORGE- House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona) on Thursday sent a letter along with eight other committee members to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland urging the repeal of the Trump administration’s decision to approve the Northern Corridor Freeway through the Red Cliffs. National Conservation Area in southern Utah.
Just days before President Biden took office, former Home Secretary David Bernhardt made a last-minute decision to approve construction of the four-lane highway on Jan. 15, 2021, according to a press release from the committee. The decision was met with strong public opposition.
In June 2021, seven environmental organizations belonging to the Red Cliffs Conservation Coalition filed a lawsuit in DC federal court challenging the Northern Corridor Highway.
National conservation areas such as Red Cliffs are specifically protected by Congress to conserve, protect and enhance the area’s natural, historic and recreational resources, the news release said.
And in the letterlawmakers point out that the highway endangers both the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area and the National Conservation Lands program as a whole:
The Northern Corridor Expressway violates the express intent of several environmental laws, including [the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the National Conservation Lands program], and sets a dangerous precedent for all national conservation lands. Congress has established clear guidelines for how these lands should be managed; the Northern Corridor Freeway would negatively impact conservation, cultural and recreational resources in [the Red Cliffs] national conservation area and would make all lands protected under the national conservation lands system vulnerable to similar development.
The authors also point out that allowing the Northern Corridor Freeway to proceed would undermine the Biden administration’s historic and ambitious “30×30 conservation” initiative.
Committee members first voiced their opposition to the Northern Corridor Freeway on a September 24, 2020 letter to Secretary Bernhardt in which they criticized the administration’s failure to adequately examine the effects on wildlife habitat and the turtle population of the Mojave Desert. The National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Sub-Committee also held a forum on September 9, 2020 during which one of the participants highlighted the risks posed by the Northern Corridor highway.
Since 1997, more than $20 million in Land and Water Conservation Fund taxpayer dollars have been used to purchase land for the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, according to the news release.
The House Committee on Natural Resources “advances the interests of Indigenous peoples and residents of United States territories, reviews legislation, and oversees federal species conservation and protection programs under the leadership of President Raúl M. Grijalva.