Go For It
Most of us have been aware in the last year about the state of Utah’s movement to get control of the federal lands in their state. Now Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada have joined in the fray, and every now and then, we hear something from our state – Wyoming. We all think this movement is unreal, and we will only get our federal lands back when “cows fly,” but the more we read about it, we start to wonder if cows may start flying soon.
Those involved in this movement cite the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court case where the court unanimously ruled that the state of Hawaii had the right to dispose of federal lands within its boundaries for private development. This ruling opened up the door that some western states are now looking at.
Historically, the U.S. Constitution in Article IV provides that Congress has the power to grant federal lands within a new state to that state through statehood enabling acts. We haven’t had any new states in some time, but the courts have cited a long history of federal lands becoming state lands after statehood.
Many lands held by the federal government east of the Mississippi were granted to the states in the 1830s and 40s. Then because of the Louisiana Purchase, many more states were formed, and Congress granted some of them nearly all of the federal lands within their borders. One of the states that has limited federal lands is North Dakota, and they are very happy of that with the Bakken oil boom going on. I’ve read that all of the other western states have the same enabling language that North Dakota has. I’m just a bunkhouse lawyer, but that sounds good to me.
At the general election next month in Arizona, there is a controversial ballot measure called Proposition 120 that, if passed, would amend the state’s constitution to declare Arizona’s sovereignty and jurisdiction over the “air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within the state’s boundaries.” Jan Brewer, Governor of Arizona this past year, vetoed a bill passed by the Legislature because she thought that bill was “too broad, and that it would create uncertainty for existing leaseholders on federal lands in difficult economic times.”
Utah passed bipartisan legislation this year, which was signed by the Governor. House Bill 148, places a Dec. 21, 2014 deadline on Congress to transfer control of federal lands to the state of Utah, under warnings from the state attorneys that it was likely unconstitutional and would trigger a costly and ultimately futile legal battle. That action sets up a showdown with Congress, who, since 1976, has said that no more federal lands would be transferred to the states. All federal lands except national parks, national monuments, veteran’s memorials and other special cases created by Congress would apply to the Utah legislation. Not a bad picture, is it?
I got my information for this column from articles written by Roger Hedecock with UTSanDiego.com and Tim Gaynor, who writes for Reuters. Both were great and unbiased in stating the facts, but they will most likely be in the minority, as everyone in the future will have a stand, on one side or the other. The “Sagebrush Rebellion” has risen again.