Monday, April 23, 2012

Arizona House votes to demand return of federally owned lands

Arizona lawmakers on Monday passed legislation demanding the U.S. government relinquish to the state millions of acres of federal territory, in the latest rekindling of a "sagebrush rebellion" over control of public lands in the West. Without debate, the Republican-dominated Arizona House of Representatives easily passed a measure seeking the return of roughly 48,000 square miles of government-owned acreage in the Grand Canyon state by 2015. The bill, approved on a 35-15 vote, now goes to the state Senate for final passage. Republican Governor Jan Brewer would then have five days once the bill reaches her desk to sign or veto it. Otherwise, the measure becomes law automatically. Arizona would be the second state in the nation to enact such legislation. Last month, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill seeking to reclaim some 30 million acres of federally owned land in his state, shrugging off warnings from state attorneys that the measure was likely unconstitutional and would lead to a protracted yet futile legal battle. Other Western legislatures are said to be weighing similar measures in what is shaping up as a new front in the decades-old conflict between the federal government and big public-land states over control of their resources. The moves cap years of rising indignation among political conservatives in big Western states over that fact that vast tracts of their land mass are owned by various federal agencies, much of it by the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management. In Arizona, the U.S. government controls 42 percent of the land mass, compared with some 60 percent in Utah. Proponents of the Arizona bill have complained that federal control puts too much land off-limits to commercial development such as mining, logging and livestock raising -- limiting the state's potential tax base for schools and other public services...more

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