Utah Congressman Chris Stewart, who represent's Utah's 2nd congressional district (which stretches from Salt Lake along the western part of the state to include southern Utah), recently introduced several legislative proposals aimed at helping rural counties in the west, particularly in Utah.
The first was the More Opportunities for Rural Economies (MORE) Grants Package, along with U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada) and Steve Daines (R-Montana). The legislative package aims to level the playing field for rural communities in areas with large amounts of federal land.
The federal government manages roughly 28 percent of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States, the majority of which is found in western states. Federal land makes up the majority of land in most of Utah’s rural counties.
“Too many counties in Utah and throughout the West face education, infrastructure, and housing shortages due to the amount of un-taxable federally controlled land,” said Representative Stewart. “By providing technical assistance in obtaining grants and lowering the cost share requirement, these two bills will help ease the burden for rural counties with low populations.”
The More Opportunities for Rural Economies (MORE) Grants Act is endorsed by the National Association of Counties. The legislative package would create a definition of High-Density Public Land Counties defined by the acreage of an individual county or local jurisdiction greater than 50% owned or managed by the federal government in any form and where the population is less than 100,000. The legislative package is broken down in two sections:
The first legislation, the More Opportunities for Rural Economies (MORE) from USDA Grants Act, seeks to increase access to:
- Rural Business Development grant program;
- Economic Impact Initiative grant program;
- Telemedicine and Distance Learning Services grant program;
- Community Connect Grant Program;
- Rural eConnectivity Pilot Program or the “ReConnect Program”; or
- Any other discretionary grant program of the Department of Agriculture Rural Development divisions under which grants are awarded to— (i) counties; (ii) other units of local government; or (iii) Tribal governments.
The second legislation, the More Opportunities for Rural Economies (MORE) from DOT Grants Act, would increase access to:
- Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation discretionary grant program;
- Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program;
- Public transportation innovation grant program;
- Public transportation safety program;
- Federal lands access program;
- Airport Improvement Program (AIP);
- Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program (CRISI); or
- Any other discretionary grant program of the Department of Transportation under which grants are awarded to— (i) counties; (ii) other units of local government; or (iii) Tribal governments.
Additional legislative proposals made by Rep. Stewart this week includes the reintroduction of both the Provide Access and Retain Continuity (PARC) Act and Utah Land Sovereignty Act.
The PARC Act would direct the Secretary of the Interior to enter into agreements with States to allow continued operation of facilities and programs that have been determined to have a direct economic impact on tourism, mining, timber, or general transportation in the State and which would otherwise cease operating, in whole or in part, during a Federal Government shutdown that is the result of a lapse in appropriations, and for other purposes. Several Utah parks were able to remain open during government shutdowns of the past, helping local communities keep businesses open that rely on park traffic.
The Utah Land Sovereignty Act would prohibit the further extension or establishment of national monuments in Utah except by express authorization of Congress.
"Utah is a public land state with amazing national parks and monuments. There is no need for unilateral presidential designations because Congress can and should make those those decisions," Stewart said.