Utah governor signing bill taking federal lands

Mar 23, 2012, 6:23 PM

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Gov. Gary Herbert plans to sign a bill Friday that demands the federal government relinquish control of public lands in Utah by 2014, setting the table for a potential legal battle over millions of acres in the state.

House Bill 148, which easily passed the Legislature, is saddled with a warning from legislative attorneys that there is a high probability it will be found unconstitutional. But Republican lawmakers and Herbert are optimistic about their chances in court, especially if they can persuade other western states to pass similar legislation.

Ideally, state and federal officials should work together to improve access and increase development opportunities on public lands, especially for energy projects, Herbert said last month. Alternatively, the state’s congressional delegation would be able to work through Congress to give the state more control.

If those approaches fail, Herbert said a lawsuit to answer the constitutional question needs to remain an option.

“Sometimes there are differences we can’t resolve,” Herbert said.

So far, only Arizona has joined the fight, with legislation that has passed the state Senate. State Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, who sponsored the measure, said it’s designed to put the federal government on notice.

Melvin said federal regulations are killing industries like mining and timber, and the state could collect more money in property taxes if some of that land is sold.

Opponents, including Utah Democrats and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the bill is not only unconstitutional but bad public policy. If implemented, they said, it could eliminate important protections from development and vehicle use for wildlife refuges, forests and other sensitive areas.

Legal experts have also said the state has no standing, noting that Utah, Arizona and other states passed similar legislation during the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion in the 1970s and 1980s.

At the core of the issue in all of the states is limited access to federal land, which hurts energy development, recreation and grazing. There are approximately 28 million acres of federal land in Utah, accounting for about 50 percent of the state. State lawmakers claim the federal lands cost the state millions of dollars every year, although no comprehensive studies have quantified those losses.

The Utah bill exempts national parks, military installations, Native American reservations and congressionally approved wilderness areas and monuments. It primarily focuses on lands controlled by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Most notably, the state would lay claim to the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, which President Bill Clinton designated in 1996. Since that declaration, state officials and residents of the rural area, which is dominated by red rock landscapes, have waged an endless battle with federal authorities over land use.

“The current situation is not what was intended to become of the West, yet greedy Washington bureaucrats have decided that hoarding land in the federal estate is more important than education,” said U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. “Like most Utahans, I disagree.”

___

Josh Loftin can be reached at
http://www.twitter.com/joshloftin. Associated Press writer Michelle Price in Phoenix contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

A high altitude balloon floats over Billings, Mont., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. The huge, high-alt...
Associated Press

Chinese balloon soars across US; Blinken scraps Beijing trip

A Chinese balloon sailing across the U.S. drew severe Pentagon accusations and sent excited or alarmed Americans outside with binoculars.
1 day ago
Protesters march Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn., over the death of Tyre Nichols, who di...
Associated Press

6th officer fired after beating death of Tyre Nichols

A sixth Memphis officer was fired Friday after an internal police investigation showed he violated multiple department policies in the violent arrest of Tyre Nichols.
1 day ago
(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)...
Associated Press

Denver Court throws out Wyoming doctor’s pill convictions

A federal appeals court on Friday threw out the convictions of a doctor accused of overprescribing powerful pain medication and ordered a new trial for him.
1 day ago
A hiring sign is displayed at a restaurant in Rolling Meadows, Ill., Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. America...
Associated Press

A surprising burst of US hiring in January: 517,000 jobs

WASHINGTON (AP) — For nearly a year, the Federal Reserve has been on a mission to cool down the job market to help curb the nation’s worst inflation bout in four decades. The job market hasn’t been cooperating. Consider what happened in January: The government said Friday that employers added a sizzling 517,000 jobs last […]
1 day ago
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)...
Associated Press

$580M headed to 15 Native American tribes to fulfill water rights

Fifteen Native American tribes will get a total of $580 million to fund settlements that ensure access to water that's legally theirs.
2 days ago
(Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)...
Associated Press

Biden’s handwritten notes part of classified documents probe

Some of President Joe Biden's handwritten notes are now a part of a special counsel’s investigation into the handling of classified documents.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Utah governor signing bill taking federal lands