Members of the Utah Legislature’s Commission on Federalism received an update from the Attorney General’s office Tuesday on the viability of a case demanding the transfer of federal public lands to state control.
Assistant Attorney General Tony Rampton says a case can be made against the federal government that they should hand over public lands to the state, but, “We’ve looked at it very carefully and it’s a tough, tough, tough case. Certainly, I don’t think it’s a case that you want to put all of your eggs in that basket.”
Rampton says the key issue in the case is whether or not the federal government’s broad powers over public lands can be limited by the agreement known as the enabling act that Utah leaders signed when statehood was granted. He says they have a strong case that the original intent of the enabling act was that federal lands would be transferred to the state over time, but what the courts have never really ruled on is whether the enabling act trumps the power of members of congress to change their minds.
Rampton also says the issue is extremely complex, and no matter what avenue the state decides to go down, they won’t be ready to act by the arbitrary end of the year deadline set by the legislature in 2012.
“As badly as we need the money for education, as much as we want to get a handle on the problems that we are experiencing, this is not a short-term fix," Rampton says. "I don’t care if you’re talking about a law case or you’re talking about a political solution, this is a long-term deal.”
Rep. Ken Ivory says he agrees with Rampton’s assessment of the situation and that the deadline was put into the legislation just to begin the process.
“I think that was really the idea of that legislation," Ivory says. "We put a date certain for our federal governing partner to engage with us and that’s their choice. When we get to the end of that road and they’ve chosen to engage or not, we have choices on our timeline to do the things that are prudent.”
State officials will continue to work on the subject throughout the year. A report on how the state might manage any transferred lands is scheduled to be released in November.