Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lawmaker seeks state control of federal land

A lawmaker told a Montana Senate committee Tuesday that he wants to give the state the power of eminent domain to take federal land within its borders. It’s one of several public lands issues being considered by legislative panels this week. About a third of the land in Montana is owned by federal agencies, and the state is often unable to benefit economically from the natural resources under that land, Republican Sen. Rowlie Hutton of Havre told the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee. He cited fears held by many Montanans that the federal government is seeking to remove land from development by either designating a national monument or through the Bureau of Land Management’s new “Wild Lands” designation, which allows the BLM to protect land for an indefinite period of time without congressional approval. Senate Bill 254 would give the state the ability to reclaim some of that land that’s been protected or being considered for protection and unlock it for resource development, Hutton said. “We’re allowing future legislatures in Montana to identify federally owned land in our state that could be put to better use,” Hutton said. Opponents of the proposal said the state’s ability to use eminent domain against the federal government is a long-shot legal theory at best — and unconstitutional at worst — but is unlikely to benefit Montana in any case. “The reason this is a novel approach and has never been tried before is because this is unconstitutional,” said Anne Hedges of the Montana Environmental Information Center. Hedges cited Article 4, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which says only Congress has the power to dispose of any territory or property belonging to the U.S...more

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