Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Tribune File Photo) Gov. Gary Herbert signed legislation Friday to have the state take over control of millions of acres of federal lands.
Herbert signs bill demanding feds relinquish lands in Utah
Politics » Legislation seeks state takeover of millions of acres of public lands.
First Published Mar 23 2012 04:54 pm • Last Updated Mar 23 2012 11:58 pm

Gov. Gary Herbert signed legislation Friday demanding that Congress turn over roughly 30 million acres of federal land within Utah’s borders — a move that proponents acknowledge could lead to a court battle.

"It’s a difficult fight. This is the first step," said Herbert before signing the measure, "but it’s a fight worth having."

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Supporters of the effort contend the federal government made a promise to Utah and Western states to dispose of hundreds of millions of acres of federal land, just as it had done in states east of the Rockies.

But it never happened and now Herbert and others say the inability to control federal lands has hampered the state’s economy. Herbert said that the director of the Bureau of Land Management has more control over the state than the governor.

Sen. Orrin Hatch referred back to the original Sagebrush Rebellion, when several Western states passed similar laws, declaring state control of federal land. Hatch sponsored a bill in 1979 to liquidate federal holdings, but it never got a hearing.

The six-term senator said in an interview that what is different today is that federal regulations are even more onerous than they were then.

"It’s gotten [to be] more federal intrusion, more federal refusal to allow us to decide our own destiny," Hatch said. "We’re so completely overlorded with federal bureaucrats that we can’t do the things we know we ought to do."

Hatch said there are vast oil, gas and oil shale resources that the federal government has refused to allow to be developed.

Rep. Rob Bishop said the federal government is paying $8.6 billion a year to manage federal lands, and isn’t doing a good job of it.

"The state of Utah is willing to stand up and say to the federal government, we’re willing to take responsibility for the state of Utah," he said. "The West is ready. It needs it. It’s now time to change the way we’ve done things traditionally … because the way we’ve done things traditionally flat-out doesn’t work."

story continues below
story continues below

Rep. Ken Ivory, the sponsor of HB148, said that it would cost the state $2.2 billion a year for Utah students to get up to the national average in per-pupil spending, and opening the public lands for economic development is the best way to achieve that.

But Steve Bloch, an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, dismissed such arguments.

"It’s outrageous that the governor is signing this plainly unconstitutional legislation that is not going to raise a dime for Utah school children and, if ever put into action, would close off public lands to Utahns and all Americans," Bloch said. "This is simply pandering to the far right in an election year."

Bloch said if Utah wanted to fund education it could look to raising its severance tax on oil, which is less than half of Wyoming’s, and begin imposing a severance tax on coal.

HB148 demands that the federal government relinquish control of the federal lands by the end of 2014. National parks, military installations and American Indian lands are exempt from the demand, as are congressionally designated wilderness areas.

National monuments run by the National Park Service are also exempt, but the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument would be turned over to state control. Proponents argue there are trillions of dollars of coal to be mined within the monument.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said the end result could be strip mining of coal, drilling for oil and condominium development inside the monument.

"That’s exactly the kind of thing that would be allowed under this law," he said. "It’s not going to be implemented, but it’s even more terrifying, the thought that it might be implemented."

But Herbert said that Utah can manage its land appropriately.

"There’s no desire from the people of Utah to take public lands and somehow rape and pillage and develop them inappropriately," he said. "We understand there are very pristine vistas that need to be preserved … We also recognize there are some public lands that ought to be developed."

Herbert said the bill gets the attention of the federal government and nudges it to discuss what the proper balance should be between the state and federal government.

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.