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Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) sent a letter today with eight other Natural Resources Committee members to U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Deb Haaland urging reversal of the Trump administration’s decision to approve the Northern Corridor Highway (NCH) through Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (Red Cliffs NCA) in southern Utah.

The full letter is available here: https://bit.ly/3M0eQSo

Just days before President Biden took office, former DOI Secretary David Bernhardt, issued a last-minute decision to approve construction of the four-lane highway on Jan. 15, 2021. 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 D.C. federal court challenging the NCH.

NCA lands, like Red Cliffs, are specifically protected by Congress to conserve, protect, and enhance natural, historical, and recreational resources in the region. In the letter, the lawmakers point out that the NCH endangers both Red Cliffs NCA and the National Conservation Lands program at large:

“The NCH violates the explicit intent of multiple environmental laws, most notably [the Land and Water Conservation Fund] and [the National Conservation Lands program], and sets a dangerous precedent for all National Conservation Lands. Congress set out clear guidelines for how these lands ought to be managed; the NCH would adversely impact the conservation, cultural, and recreational resources within [Red Cliffs] NCA and would make any lands protected under the system of National Conservation Lands vulnerable to similar development.”

The authors also point out that allowing the NCH to go forward would undermine the Biden administration’s historic and ambitious 30×30 conservation initiative. 

Committee members first expressed opposition to the NCH in a Sept. 24, 2020 letter to Secretary Bernhardt in which they criticized the administration’s failure to adequately examine effects on wildlife habitat and the Mojave desert tortoise population. The Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands also held a forum on Sept. 9, 2020 at which one of the participants highlighted the risks posed by the NCH.

Since 1997, more than $20 million in taxpayer dollars from the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been used to purchase lands for the Red Cliffs NCA. The NCH poses a direct threat to these investments.