Utah lawmakers are debating a series of bills that would, taken together, demand that Congress transfer all federal lands within the state about 60 percent of Utah is federally owned to Utah authorities. The measures also authorize money to sue the federal government if it doesn't comply.
Lawmakers pushing the proposals argue that a deal with the federal government when Utah became a state allowed for the lands to pass into local hands but the government has refused to relinquish control. State attorneys have noted that the effort is likely to be found unconstitutional.
Asked about the bills, Abbey said it was "divisive" to focus on whether the lands should be managed by the federal government or state officials.
"The time could be spent on how best to manage these lands regardless of ownership," Abbey said.
On the other side, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said Tuesday that he supports the Legislature's efforts to stake claim to the public lands.
The federal government has blocked oil and gas exploration, development, mining and grazing on much of those public lands, a point Bishop says costs Utahns potential revenues.
"I want them to do as many avenues of approach as possible," Bishop said. "All I want is one arrow to get over the wall and hit something so we can finally win on this issue."
Gov. Gary Herbert also has expressed support for the legislation.