Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The West v. the feds

by Roger Hedgecock

    Ken Ivory is a committed constitutionalist, an elected member of the Utah Legislature, and the leader of a renewed movement among western states to get the federal government to finally give those states title to lands held by the feds “in trust.”
    The feds hold “in trust” 57.5 percent of Utah, 84.5 percent of Nevada, 69.1 percent of Alaska, 36.6 percent of Colorado, 50.2 percent of Idaho, 41.8 percent of New Mexico, 42.3 percent of Wyoming, 48.1 percent of Arizona, and even 45.3 percent of California.
    Today, the feds continue to administer all this land in western states through many federal agencies such as the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
    Here are a few examples of the lousy management job the feds are doing:
    Federal data, despite Obama’s assertion to the contrary in Debate number two, shows that oil and natural gas production on federally administered lands declined 13 percent from 2010 to 2011. Oil and gas production on private land is soaring thanks to new technology and new discoveries.
    In another example, millions of acres of federal forest go up in smoke every year not because Smokey the Bear is not doing his job but because federal agencies are run by and for anti-timber, anti-ranching, anti-road, and endangered species zealots who prevent good forestry practices.
    After the devastating recent forest fires in New Mexico, the Forest Service even blocked recovery logging of still usable trees to clear the land for new growth. By contrast, good practices on the Apache reservation forest land in New Mexico (not subject to Forest Service rules) spared that forest from the recent devastating fires.
    Here’s another example:
    Mining of “rare earths,” the scarce minerals in every computer, smartphone, and military weapon system, has been shut down on federal lands. A dozen rare earth mines on federal land in New Mexico have been closed to “protect the environment,” leaving us dependent on mines in China to meet our needs for these critical minerals.
    Rep. Ivory’s contention is that these “federal” lands (other than national parks, national monuments, veterans memorials, and other special cases created by Congress) belong to the western states by law.
    Ivory relies on a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court case (Hawaii v. Office of Hawaiian Affairs), where the court unanimously ruled that the state of Hawaii had the right to dispose of federal lands within its boundaries for private development.
    The U.S. Constitution (Article IV) provides that Congress has the power to grant federal lands within a new state to that state. Congress provided for transfer of federal lands to new states in statehood enabling acts.
    The court cited a long history of federal land becoming state land after statehood. Lands held by the feds east of the Mississippi River were granted to the states formed out of those lands in the 1830s and ‘40s.
The vast Louisiana Purchase resulted in the creation of many other states. Congress granted some of them (North Dakota, for example) nearly all federal land within the state boundaries. This is why North Dakota is nearly all privately owned and why the so-called Bakken oil field boom is possible today.
    All other western states have the same enabling act language that North Dakota has.
    This case is the foundation of Ken Ivory’s campaign for the rest of the western states, and why, he says, this effort will succeed where previous efforts, like the 1980s “Sagebrush Rebellion” failed.
    This year, Rep. Ivory introduced, the Utah Legislature on a bipartisan basis passed, and the governor signed, House Bill 148 placing a Dec. 21, 2014, deadline on Congress to transfer control of federal lands to the state of Utah.
    Ivory’s Utah bill sets up a showdown with Congress, which, since 1976, has said that no more federal lands would be transferred to the states.
    Other western states have taken notice of Ken Ivory’s stand. The New Mexico Legislature will see similar legislation introduced in January. In Nevada, a similar bill has already been introduced. Arizona is working on similar legislation after Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill she thought was too broad.
    If the federal government wants to block oil and natural gas production, block “rare earth” mining, limit grazing, steal water rights, and leave the West a scorched earth of preventable wildfires, the western states want the land they were promised to reverse those policies and build a foundation of a new prosperity.

Hedgecock hosts a news talk program on U-T TV, Cox 114, and on utsandiego.com, 11 a.m. to noon, weekdays.

Originally posted at the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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