Environews, Environews

Environews: $14 million for misguided effort to privatize public lands

By Amy Brunvand

Somebody needs to give a copy of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House to members of the Utah Commission for Stewardship of Public Lands.

–by Amy Brunvand

In the novel unscrupulous lawyers persuade a young man to pursue a fruitless lawsuit until the inheritance he thinks is his is entirely squandered on legal fees. In a similar manner, the Commission has been hornswoggled by a team of Louisiana lawyers to pay $14 million of taxpayer money for a quixotic legal attempt to transfer control of federal public lands to the State of Utah. The lawyers plan to argue that the United States has no right to forever retain the public lands within Utah’s borders. It’s not likely that this argument will succeed in court, but if it did it would be a severe blow to conservation of natural areas, recreation and tourism not only in Utah but in the entire Western United States. National Forests, National Parks and Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, and BLM Land could all be managed or sold to maximize revenue in the same way as Utah State and Institutional Trust Lands (SITLA) are currently managed.

The State of Utah is counting on resource development revenue to pay for things like wildfire suppression (never mind that the price of oil is currently so low that the recent oil and gas boom has already gone bust). But in a land transfer Utah would probably get only surface management rights and not mineral rights. Two legal scholars at the University of Utah have released a new report titled When Winning Means Losing: Why a state takeover of public lands may leave states without the minerals they covet.” The report points out, “It is ironic that in 1932, Congress considered conveying ownership of the vacant, unappropriated, and unreserved non-mineral public lands to the states. The states opposed the proposal, fearing that without control of the minerals they could not afford the expense of management. Yet today, [Transfer of Public Lands Act] TPLA advocates are rushing towards the same financial cliff, either unaware of the likely consequences or unwilling to acknowledge them.”

Legal Analysis (Dec. 9, 2015): le.utah.gov/interim/2015/pdf/00005590.pdf

When winning means losing. (John Ruple & Robert B. Keiter, 2015). papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2701292


More January 2016 Environews:

Another wolf killed in Utah

Utah national park visitation soars

Utah air quality problem, “serious nonattainment”

Utah gets utility-scale solar

Lake Powell pipeline a costly water boondoggle

This article was originally published on January 8, 2016.