Utah has roughly 30 million acres of national forests, parks and other lands. According to a bipartisan poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, 65% of Utahns are opposed to the seizure and selling off of public lands within their state. Despite public opinion, the state of Utah has made considerable efforts to transfer federal public lands over to the state. House Speaker Becky Lockhart and Rep. Ken Ivory are leading this charge, while Utah State Sen. Jim Dabakis and State Rep. Joel Briscoe are working hard to counter their efforts in order to protect public lands and ensure that they are for all Americans.
AG Sean Reyes plans to move forward with the transfer of public lands: “When it comes to litigation, we have one shot.”
The major bill that is the centerpiece of these efforts is HB 148 (Transfer of Public Lands Act, or TPLA), which passed in the Utah Legislature in 2012, demanding the federal government to transfer public lands to the state by 2015 or be sued. The TPLA’s demand includes the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This national monument overlays fossil fuels worth hundreds of billions of dollars. One of the major goals of the TPLA is to exploit this area. Utah would not be required the to pay fair market value—or any value at all -for the transfer of public lands under the TPLA. Utah would pay only if it were later to sell the lands, but under the TPLA it is not required to sell lands. If they sold any land 95% of the net profit would go to the U.S. and 5% to the state school fund. However, if the state instead leased the land or its minerals, it would pay nothing.
Other bills that have passed regarding the transfer of federal lands to the state:
- HB 122 passed in 2013, authorizing a study and economic analysis of the transfer of public lands: UT taxpayer cost $450,000
- HB 164 passed in 2014, authorizing an “Interstate Compact on State Transfer of Public Lands” to coordinate political and legal challenges across states
- HB 151 passed in 2014, creating a “Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands”
Utah’s Enabling Act states “That the people inhabiting said proposed State do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof.”
2015 Public Lands Legislation
- Senate Bill 105: Public Lands Act Amendments
- Senate Bill 48:Evaluating Federal Land
- House Bill 303: Legislative Approval of Land Transfers
- House Bill 132: Interstate Compact on Transfer of Federal Lands Amendments