Monday, May 20, 2013

Utah governor to argue for state management of federal lands

Michelle Merlin, E&E reporter
Published: Monday, May 20, 2013     

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) recently signed a bill demanding that the federal government cede its lands, which make up roughly two-thirds of the state's area, to the state.

Herbert, who also chairs the Western Governors' Association, will be on Capitol Hill tomorrow to tell a House Natural Resources subpanel that he thinks Utah and other states manage their lands well, perhaps even better than the federal government.

The testimony could highlight the differences between members of the conservative Western Caucus, who believe the federal government should stay out of state land management, and environmentalists, who worry that states will sell their protected lands for oil and gas drilling.

Herbert is going to "emphasize state- and local-based management techniques and practices are effective," said Cody Stewart, Herbert's energy adviser and a former aide to Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah). "The federal land management structure is an outgrowth of 50 years of ideas. It may be well-intentioned, but the result is a system that is inflexible, a system that is bureaucratic, a system that does not encourage or even allow for innovation or flexibility."

Bishop, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, which is holding the hearing, has often questioned whether the federal government should be involved in land management, especially when the federal and state partnership can be unwieldy.

The hearing will examine "why not just let the states who have more of a vested interest in the health and viability of the lands in the first place [manage them] ... [and see if] it makes more sense for the states to have the authority and sole responsibility to manage the land instead of it being a state-federal-type situation," said Bishop spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin.

Environmentalists tend to oppose these viewpoints because they fear states would open up the protected lands to development.

"If somehow the state would wrest control over public lands, it's clear they would be sold or leased to the highest bidder," Steve Bloch, an attorney and energy program director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said about Utah's land transfer bills.

Environmentalist groups from outside the state also argue that the federal lands aren't just Utah's.

"The federal lands are lands that belong to all Americans, and the notion that the American people take this wonderful resource and hand it over to a single state to do what they want with it is simply nonsensical," said Paul Spitler, the director of wilderness policy for the Wilderness Society. "These lands are a national treasure, and they belong to all Americans, and they should stay that way for perpetuity."

Schedule: The hearing is Tuesday, May 21, at 10:30 a.m. in 1324 Longworth.

Witness: Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R), chairman of the Western Governors' Association.

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