Bill would let Utah cities, counties claim federal land
States’ rights • Conservatives want to extend the power of eminent domain to local governments.
Published: February 27, 2012 04:27PM
Updated: February 27, 2012 11:19PM
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Tribune File Photo A package of bills headed toward final passage in the Legislature seeks to turn tens of millions of acres of federal lands over to the state. The file photo is of Arch Canyon, an area in consideration for wilderness protection, in San Juan County.

Cities and towns could use eminent domain power to confiscate federal land in the state, part of a package of bills aimed at instigating a court battle seeking state control over tens of millions of acres in Utah.

Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, argued that environmentalists are closing down federal lands and federal agents are arresting people on roads through federal land.

“I for one am not going to put up with it anymore,” said Noel. “If you care about education, if you care about being a sovereign state, stand up and do the right thing.”

Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, who is running for governor, said the bill could generate trillions of dollars for Utah’s economy and help Utah’s schools, which receive less per student than any other state.

The bill passed the House 57-14 and moves to the Senate for consideration.

Legislative attorneys have cautioned that the legislation is almost certainly unconstitutional. Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, who is an attorney, said the state shouldn’t spend money advancing a “fanciful legal argument.”

“It’s highly probable that this whole argument is going to go down in flames,” he said.

King said while Utah is spending money on legal challenges, Utah students will continue to attend underfunded schools.

Utah passed legislation two years ago asserting a legal right to use eminent-domain authority at the state level to claim federal land.

But Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, said recently that the governor and attorney general opted to go to court to try to claim ownership of federal lands instead, and he questioned Gov. Gary Herbert’s commitment to confronting the federal government.

Sumsion’s eminent-domain bill is one of several bills moving through the Legislature that seeks to seize control of federal lands.

Other bills are giving Congress a deadline to relinquish control of federal land within the state’s borders and setting the stage for a court battle if Congress fails to do so.

gehrke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @RobertGehrke