Sen. Orrin Hatch and Congressman Rob Bishop, both representing Utah, have introduced the Hill Creek Cultural Preservation and Energy Development Act in the U.S. Senate and House.
The legislation would facilitate the exchange of 20,000 acres of state-held mineral rights within the Hill Creek Extension of the Ute Indian Reservation for mineral rights of about 20,000 acres of federal lands in the northern portion of the reservation in eastern Utah.
"This legislation is a win-win for the state of Utah and the Ute tribe," says Hatch. "The House did the smart thing last Congress and passed this common sense bill, and under Congressman Bishop's strong leadership will hopefully do so again. It is my hope that together we can get the Senate to do the right thing and create this new opportunity for energy development in Utah."
For several years, the Ute tribe and the state of Utah have sought to exchange the mineral rights in order to preserve tribal cultural lands located within the state's current holdings. The legislation is aimed at helping protect culturally sensitive areas while providing new opportunities for potential energy development in the Uintah Basin, upon which the state school trust fund relies.
In previous Congresses, this legislation was viewed as non-controversial, and received bipartisan support in the House. Support is expected to be strong for the act in 2013, proponents believe
"This is a common sense bill that protects the interests of all parties involved," says Bishop. "It protects sensitive tribal lands and ensures that the state does not suffer a loss regarding its ability to generate revenue for the school trust fund.
"I am confident the Senate will also recognize the merits of this important bill."
Original sponsors of the legislation include Congressmen Jim Matheson, Jason Chaffetz, and Chris Stewart, as well as Senator Mike Lee, all from Utah.