OUR VIEW: Ditch the federal lands fight

Mar 2 2012 - 4:07pm

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Charge!
Charge!

Utah legislators should say no to bills that invite a long, costly fight with the federal government over tens of millions of acres of lands in Utah owned by the federal government.

No mocking, no pot-shots from this editorial board. Our reasons for ditching the effort is pragmatic. It's a battle Utah will lose. The Constitution's Supremacy Clause makes that clear.

Why spend precious funds to pursue a losing court case? Utah is not going to succeed in gaining control of federal lands. The Legislature's best lawyers have already informed lawmakers of that fact. Nevertheless, Don Quixote apparently rules on the Hill. More distressing, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert appears ready to play the Sancho Panza role in this effort.

Have Utah's lawmakers thought about this step clearly? BRAC, the base realignment debates could be a consequence. Will the feds have less of an interest is using the Utah Test and Training Range if Utah picks a fight. Will the closure of Hill Air Force Base be a consequence of this battle?

Having taken this position, we do have sympathy with Utah lawmakers' frustrations. The feds, long ago, made promises to Utah leaders that they have broken, both legally and in spirit, many times. And Utah legislators look longingly on federally protected lands that could be used for oil and drilling, travel, grazing, mining, etc. It's no secret that the Legislature would like to garner funds that would increase the amount of money that could go to Utah's public schools. Frankly, during a recession the extra money is appreciated.

So, yeah, we get why legislators are pushing this effort. We also understand that the idea of taking on the feds is a popular issue in Utah and other parts of the western United States. A pol seeking to up his or her popularity among the base can always garner a lot of cheers by damning the feds and proclaiming the sovereign rights of the states.

But this dog won't hunt. Utah will lose if legislators pass, and Gov. Herbert signs, laws that give Utah control over federal lands. All that will be left is a fat legal bill and some useful rhetoric for future political campaigns.

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