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Fighting the feds

Published May 18, 2013 1:01 am

Law antagonizes officers doing a job
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Rep. Mike Noel is no friend to the federal government. But that can also be said of the Kanab Republican's relationship with old-growth trees, wildlife, children affected by dirty air, environmentalists and conservation of almost any kind.

Still, while his motives and tactics in sponsoring HB155 are "same old, same old" Noel, and certainly no surprise to most Utahns, it seems that this bill making it illegal for federal land-management officers to do their jobs goes too far.

Under this legislation, a federal officer trying to enforce a state or local law anywhere in Utah would be guilty of impersonating a peace officer, a class B misdemeanor, punishable by a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.

A federal judge rightly blocked implementation of the law Monday until a June hearing on a longer-term injunction requested by the U.S. Department of Justice, whose attorneys argue the law is unconstitutional.

If the law is eventually nullified, it won't matter to the quixotic Noel. He seems to enjoy spending Utah taxpayers' money in court. In fact, he relishes any kind of standoff with federal government agencies and employees almost as much as he likes to thumb his nose at groups trying to protect the natural resources that bring many millions of tourist dollars to the Beehive State every year.

Noel is an Old West kind of guy. Although he has traded the traditional saddle horse for an all-terrain vehicle, he believes in the outdated philosophy that wide-open spaces are there to be used up and discarded for short-term gain and temporary jobs. He fails to see the writing on the wall: The future mainstays of the Western economy will not be ranching, mining and extractive industries.

While those continue to provide jobs for the present, any thoughtful public servant should understand that the long-term economic health of Utah and other Western states depends on attracting visitors who spend money on outdoor recreation.

Arguing in the Legislature for laws that do nothing but antagonize federal officers and cost tax money to defend in court is not responsible governance. It's a provincial, last-gasp attempt to control lands that belong to all Americans, not only the Utahns who live near them.

Poking the U.S. Constitution in the eye by ignoring the Supremacy Clause, which elevates federal law above state and local laws, may be fun for Noel, but Utahns should see it for what it is: a waste of time and money that should be spent on solving Utah's real problems.