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Speaker of the House Ben Toma speaking on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives at the Arizona State Capitol building in Phoenix, July 31, 2023. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Biden War on American Energy Strikes Arizona

Extending monument status may throttle mining and energy production

By Steve Kirwan, September 24, 2023 10:54 am

In a move that may have single-handedly hamstrung Arizona’s struggling mining and energy industry, Joe Biden designated nearly one million acres of land surrounding the Grand Canyon as a new national monument.

As a result, Arizona’s Senate President Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) and House Speaker Ben Toma (R-27) agreed to jointly sue the Biden administration over a “dictator-style land grab,” as Petersen called it, along with Biden’s “tyrannic desires” to block mining and agriculture.

State Senate President Warren Petersen at the 2023 Legislative Forecast Luncheon at Chase Field in Phoenix, January 6, 2023. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Dubbed the “Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument,” which translates in Navajo to “where indigenous peoples roam,” and in Hopi, to “our ancestral footprints,” it has a stated intent to preserve cultural and sacred sites of tribes from the area. But the Arizona leaders see another darker side to the declaration. Although it allows current livestock grazing leases, plus hunting and fishing access, it blocks Arizona uranium and other energy-critical mining activities.

Petersen called Biden’s move, authorized under the Antiquities Act of 1906, a vast overreach. He advised that the Legislature is working to identify parties deemed likely to be impacted. He expects a coalition of citizens, businesses, and local governments to coalesce in support of the suit by early next year. The effort will likely face fierce opposition from the Biden administration, Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs, and a cadre of Native American groups.

Every previous attempt to challenge national monuments created under the Antiquities Act has failed, including a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissal of a similar suit brought by the State of Utah. According to U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer, only Congress has the power to limit or roll back monument designations by a President, pointing to laws passed limiting new monuments in Alaska and Wyoming.

“Congress knows how to restrict statutory presidential power,” Nuffer wrote in his Utah ruling. “Otherwise, the terms of the statute control.”

But Toma said the Legislature must act to protect citizen’s and state’s rights. “Arizona has an obligation to challenge this overreach by the federal government,” he said in a text message. “Other similar legal challenges are working their way through the courts, and the United States Supreme Court has shown interest in this issue.”

DOI Secretary Deb Haaland Visit Yellowstone River, August 13, 2021. (Photo Jacob W. Frank/NPS)

Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs sent a letter urging the President to act in May, writing that she “heard from people across the political spectrum including sporting groups, faith leaders, outdoor recreation businesses, conservation groups and others from a broad array of interests that support this monument designation.” She insisted that the Native peoples deserved the protection, and recently criticized the Legislature’s actions. “Any opposition to this designation goes against the best interests of all Arizonans and ignores the shared benefits of recognizing this land,” stated gubernatorial spokesman Christian Slater. “Gov. Hobbs stands by her support of the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Monument and she will continue advocating for and with the tribal communities in Arizona.”

Petersen calls the monument expansion “nothing more than a publicity stunt to appeal to his radical environmental base, while in tandem creating dire consequences for the livelihoods of our citizens, Arizona’s economy, as well as our nation’s energy supply.”

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, agrees with Hobbs. She said that Biden’s action “makes clear that Native American history is American history.” She continued, “This land is sacred to the many tribal nations who have long advocated for its protection, and establishing a national monument demonstrates the importance of recognizing the original stewards of our public lands.”

Petersen disagrees. “This move (by Biden) has nothing to do with protecting the Grand Canyon. It has everything to do with fulfilling his tyrannic desires to block responsible mining and agriculture production in an effort to cater to the extremists who elected him into office.” He contends that the designation is part of Biden’s ongoing “war on American energy production,” resulting in record energy costs. “Now he wants to cripple mining across the U.S. and further exacerbate our dependency on dangerous foreign nations for our energy supply, which will continue to drive up costs for taxpayers amid historic inflation.”

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