EMERY COUNTY, Utah – There’s a land grab, of sorts, happening in Washington D.C. between Utah and the state of Illinois. Two members of Utah’s congressional delegation are pushing a bill in what they call a “response” to an attempted land grab from an out-of-state Senator.
This week, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin introduced S. 1535, which would designate land in Emery County as “wilderness land” so it would qualify for federal protection. Senator Mitt Romney said nearly one million acres would be taken if the bill goes through.
According to Romney, Durbin has attempted to push this bill for land before.
“He doesn’t have any proposal to do anything in his own state. He just wants to do so in ours,” Romney said. “If he’s going to be trying to get parts of our state into the wilderness area, why don’t we look into his state?”
Utah’s legislators say Durbin had no business pushing a bill that takes land away from Utah. Romney said the legislation goes against an agreement made in 2019, which designated the land for things like grazing.
Romney also believes Durbin’s legislation deserves a response.
“If you get attacked first, you’re going to respond, or they’re going to keep on attacking you,” he said.
He and Representative John Curtis introduced the Shawnee Wilderness Area Designation Act, which would set aside 289 thousand acres of land in Illinois and put it into the National Wilderness Preservation System.
Romney said as long as Durbin pushes his bill, Utah’s lawmakers will push theirs, although he doesn’t believe it will gain much traction in the Senate.
“I’m not expecting these things to be passed, but I’m expecting people to stand up and take notice,” he said.
However, he doesn’t believe Durbin’s bill will get enough support, either.
Romney said, “It requires 60 votes to pass the Senate. Democrats have 50 votes, and there will not be a single Republican that votes alongside his proposal any more than they ever have in the past.”
Curtis issued a statement that read Durbin has refused to meet with him about the land, and he has pushed the bill for the past two congressional sessions.
“A senator from Illinois should not be bullying rural Utah, especially when he has land back home that needs protection,” the statement said.
Senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney joined forces to reintroduce a bill in January, which they say would better protect Utah’s rural lands. In a written statement, Senator Lee claimed their bill, Protect Utah’s Rural Economy (PURE) Act, would protect Utah from presidential Antiquities Act abuse.