Utah Seeks to Seize Federal Land Under Eminent Domain

At a time when many states are looking at ways to strike back at an out-of-control federal government which is planning to saddle them with more and more massive, unfunded mandates and unconstitutional obligations, the government of Utah has found an interesting way to strike back. It's not as direct as the approach being pursued by more than a dozen states which are suing the federal government over Obamacare, but it may turn out to be even more effective.

The Utah state legislature has passed two bills which have been signed by Governor Gary Herbert, which will begin the process of seizing valuable federal land within the state under the rules of eminent domain. The idea has a certain charming irony to it considering how often state and federal governments have used eminent domain to deprive citizens of their property rights, but the results could be of enormous benefits to the citizens of Utah.

Utah is like several other western states which have enormous amounts of land that are under federal control. In their case it is a total of 60% of their land area, including major fossil fuel deposits which the Obama administration has ruled off-limits for mining and drilling. The state government hopes to take control of that land, sell leases for the mineral rights and spend that money to solve some of the state's budgetary problems including public education funding.

The federal government controls similarly large areas of resource-rich land in 12 western states totaling about 650 million acres. Most of this land is under the control of the Department of the Interior through the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and Department of Agriculture. It includes about 200 million acres of forest land, 80 million acres of park land and 90 million acres of wildlife refuge. If other states were to follow Utah's lead the potential payoff in mineral, energy and other natural resources — maybe even in tourism dollars — would be extraordinary.

There have been past proposals, including federal legislation, to return some or all of the land or the resource rights to the states, but with a weak economy, tight budgets and new unfunded mandates like additional unemployment costs and coming health care costs, the need is greater now than ever before.

Unfortunately, the states which have this option and might follow Utah's lead are mostly not ones with the large populations which will make the coming costs unbearable. They will also face years of legal resistance from the federal government before they are likely to see any results from their efforts. The importance of Utah's effort may be mostly symbolic, but with the federal government willfully ignoring the best interests of the people, it's at least some reassurance that there are states which are looking for solutions and trying to protect their citizens with whatever methods they can come up with.

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About Dave 531 Articles
Dave Nalle has worked as a magazine editor, a freelance writer, a capitol hill staffer, a game designer and taught college history for many years. He now designs fonts for a living and lives with his family in a small town just outside Austin where he is ex-president of the local Lions Club. He is on the board of the Republican Liberty Caucus and Politics Editor of Blogcritics Magazine. You can find his writings about fonts, art and graphic design at The Scriptorium. He also runs a conspiracy debunking site at IdiotWars.com.

1 Comment

  1. Eminent domain requires the power of exclusive legislation, which the federal government may not exercise within a state unless the state legislature consents to sell the real property to the federal government, which in turn then yields it to exclusive federal control.

    Can the state take it back? I would initially think not.

    However you can dig deeper and say that it was unlawful for the federal government to own property in a state in the first place, even as a precondition for statehood, unless it were “for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings”. Most federal land in the western states is made up of idle claims and clearly doesn’t fit this requirement.

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