This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Last Sunday's op-ed ("Until Utah controls its federal lands, Utahns will be second-class citizens," April 3) written by a quartet of Republican state lawmakers could hardly be more wrongheaded. It mistakenly asserts that federally managed lands in our state are "Utah's," when in fact they are jointly owned by all Americans. Meanwhile, the so-called "constitutional experts" that prepared the report the lawmakers rely on are really nothing more than hired guns. The result? More of the same hot air we have come to expect from Republican state lawmakers operating in an echo chamber.
As the Tribune and others have pointed out many times, there is simply no support in Utah's Enabling Act, Utah's Constitution or United States Supreme Court case law to prop up the state's land grab litigation litigation that, if successful, would take away America's public lands and give them to the Utah politicians to sell off and develop.
In fact, one of the most vocal sagebrush rebels, Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, recently told the Tribune that with the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court is no longer the "right place" for Utah's Powerball lottery legal theories. How many more millions of Utah taxpayer dollars will we waste on this fool's errand?
The foursome also blithely assert that Utah could afford to manage our public lands. Not even close. The state's own figures show that it would take consistently high oil and gas prices more than $90 per barrel for the number to even come close to penciling out. With oil trading at below $40 per barrel, how would Utah make up for the deficit?
The obvious answer can be found in Rep. Rob Bishop's recently released draft legislation that would green light the sale of one of the nation's most popular National Wildlife Refuges in Puerto Rico to pay off that island's debt. Say goodbye to your public lands.
One of their most bizarre arguments is that public ownership of federal lands is preventing Utah from fulfilling its Manifest Destiny of perpetual growth. Their theory goes like this: State lawmakers and local officials want to take federal lands in order to stretch roads, power lines and cables willy-nilly across the landscape. However, they are "oftentimes impotent" to do so because federal land managers have other ideas. Thus, because Utah politicians can't immediately take federal lands, this "hinders the growth of population and obstructs Utah's capacity to gain greater political power at the federal government."
Suffice it to say that Utah the state with the nation's highest birthrate and second highest population growth is not growing too slowly.
Federal public lands are Utah's lifeblood. This is an undeniable truth.
The true motivation behind the foursome's arguments is control. They want to be the ones calling the shots, not the public. Remember, these legislators believe that Utahns should not even be able to elect their own United States senators.
It's time for our elected leaders to stop their saber rattling and complaining. These antics not only embarrass our state on a national stage, they also are seized upon by sagebrush rebels and other scofflaws as an excuse to violate federal laws and threaten government officials. Federal public lands in Utah aren't going anywhere, and thank goodness for that.
Steve Bloch is an attorney and legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.