When I read Carbon County Commissioner John Jones' testimony to Congress on the Antiquities Act, I was stunned by his statement; the people of rural Utah, "live in fear," of the presidential power to create National Monuments. Further in his testimony, Commissioner Jones described how the designation of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, "devastated the economies of Kane and Garfield Counties and the lifestyles of the people live there." In the devastating twelve years after the designation their population rose by 8%, jobs rose by 38% and per capita income increased by 30%.
By comparison Carbon County should be in the chips since the 1996 monument designation. Along with not being encumbered by a monument, Carbon enjoyed a net loss of federal land within the county. Several thousand acres of mineral rich BLM lands in Carbon County were transferred to the State of Utah. Since the designation, Carbon has seen the development of four coalbed methane fields, a conventional gas field, some limited oil drilling. The Lila Canyon Coal Mine opened just across the line in Emery County. The nearest population center, coal shipping facility and mine service companies are all in Carbon County. While the monument is closed to oil and gas development, 78% of the public lands in Carbon and Emery Counties are available for leasing.
While the population around the GSENM was growing, Carbon County population declined and has just recovered to the 1996 level. Jobs grew by about 3%. Per capita income grew by just 11%. In 1996 both Kane and Garfield counties had lower per capita income than did Carbon. The reverse is now true despite all the extractive industry development in Carbon.
Compounding our economic woes, Carbon County is rated as the least healthy county in the state. Our access to medical facilities and providers is ranked 9th out of 29 counties yet we rank last for overall health. Good access to health care does not overcome our behavioral and socio-economic risk factors.
Carbon County has been home for over half of my 60 years. I have a passion for this place and appreciation for the folks who live here. I turned down very nice offers to work and live elsewhere. The point of this essay is not to run down Carbon County. This community does not live in fear of monuments or monsters under the bed. We do not benefit by feeling sorry for counties that have fared better than us. We would be best served by working to make our community more livable, our people healthier. If we have a collective fault it is clinging to the gambler's dream, hoping the next coal mine or gas play somehow assures prosperity. Instead of waiting for our futures to be decided in far away corporate board rooms, we should be creating it for ourselves.