Michelle Merlin, E&E reporter

E&E: Friday, June 7, 2013

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said he couldn’t help but guffaw every time a witness from the National Park Service or Bureau of Land Management said he or she didn’t know the answer to a question but would get back to him.

Bishop turned up the heat on the Department of the Interior at the end of a recent Natural Resources subpanel hearing for not responding to several information requests the panel made over the past few months.

The Utah congressman said he was still waiting for answers to the following inquiries: how Interior handles donations of private property for national monument designations — a question asked April 16; a list of BLM withdrawals for military use — requested April 26; and information about wilderness characteristics and the BLM field manual — asked for May 9.

“This is a very frustrating experience with the Department of the Interior, asking for information, trying to get those with that information so we can make decisions, and [then] not getting that information back month after month after month,” Bishop said.

The tension between Interior and lawmakers on the Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Subcommittee played out throughout the hearing yesterday.

Controversy erupted during consideration of H.R. 2166, a bill prompted by the death of a Nevada man, Keith Goldberg, who vanished in January 2012.

Although his ex-girlfriend and her husband were charged with murder, Goldberg’s family was unable to find peace of mind, or his body. They hired a certified nonprofit group to find his remains.

Evidence eventually pointed to Lake Mead National Recreation Area run by the National Park Service, but the search team was not allowed to examine the area without a $1 million insurance policy, an amount it took the team and family about a year to raise. Once they were allowed access, the group found the body in April within two hours.

“Keith and our family are victims, not only of a terrible crime but of bureaucratic roadblocks that impeded search efforts and prolonged our pain and suffering and the ability to get closure and bring Keith home,” said his sister, Jodi Goldberg.

The incident spurred the bill, which would allow good Samaritan groups to search for bodies in federal lands run by Interior and the Department of Agriculture, as long as the groups agree to lift liability from the government.

But Cam Sholly, associate director of visitor and resource protection for NPS, asked the committee to defer action on the bill until the agency had time to fully analyze the legislation, which was presented two weeks ago.

The request drew fire from both parties.

“It is unacceptable that the Park Service did not do more to allow these families to recover the bodies of their loved ones,” said Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.). “This is a very tragic incident. It shouldn’t take you months to evaluate your internal practices to figure out what you can do within your agency to prevent something like this from happening.”

Bishop also admonished Sholly and the Park Service for their response, or lack thereof.

“The only thing that should have been in your testimony … should have been an active, formal apology to this family and an apology to us and the nation for how badly the National Park Service has acted on this, and the inability of actually moving forward without doing anything to try to correct this at this stage of the game is unthinkable, it’s untenable, it’s wrong,” Bishop said. “You should be ashamed of what you’ve done on this issue, and that’s why this bill is before us.”

Monumental reactions to monuments, again

Tension also reared between members of the Arizona delegation. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D) railed against a bill,H.R. 1495, proposed by fellow Arizonan Rep. Paul Gosar (R) that would prohibit the president from declaring monuments in the state without congressional approval.

“There’s a point at which we have to wonder whose interest is being served here,” Grijalva said in a statement prior to the hearing. “With all due respect to my colleague Rep. Gosar, this bill smacks of special interests and trying to score cheap political points. The Antiquities Act has done more than any other law to preserve thousands of years of Native American heritage. Suddenly we’re supposed to believe it’s a federal emergency worthy of Congressional meddling.”

He said that such legislation seems especially contrary in Arizona, which is home to 17 national monuments.

“Some people might disagree, they might say Teddy Roosevelt shouldn’t have made the Grand Canyon a monument,” he said at the hearing.

Gosar stood by his bill and H.R. 2192 proposed by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to require every monument designation to go through a local public meeting, be subject to several types of economic analysis and be temporary until congressional approval.

“We have found when the public is not involved in land management decisions, it leads to conflict,” Gosar said. “I appreciate the need for protection of the sites, however the public has the right to have their voices heard.”

Sholly said that Interior strongly opposes both bills.

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