Utah’s Public Lands

Utah’s Public Lands

About 70% of Utah’s land mass continues to be owned and controlled by the federal government. It is no secret that Utah is home to abundant oil and natural gas reserves, but restrictions placed on public lands by the federal government render many reserves difficult or off limits all together to access. That fact became acutely apparent recently when the BLM released a proposal that, if approved, would significantly reduce the amount of federal lands available in Utah for oil shale mining. The lack of control over our public lands puts Utah at a significant disadvantage in energy development and economic growth and limits our ability to fund priorities such as public education.

One legislator offered an out-of-out the box solution to opening up greater access to our natural resources on federal lands for exploration and development. The increased tax revenues would provide for the costs of education while also addressing Utah’s push towards energy independence and economic growth. While somewhat controversial, I do appreciate Rep. Ken Ivory’s exploration of the issue. His proposed resolution would require the federal government to transfer title of most public lands to the State by the end of 2014.

The basis for the resolution lies in a legal theory dating back to Utah’s territorial days and subsequent admission to the union. In brief, Rep. Ivory’s argument is that at the time of Utah’s statehood, the federal government promised to deliver title to Utah all federal lands within its borders, as was the done historically in all states east of Colorado. This transfer did not happen when Utah became a state.

Under Ivory’s proposal, if lands were turned over to the state and restrictions loosened, significant job growth would result and Utahns would be the beneficiaries. Net profits from the sale of the newly acquired land would serve to bolster the funding of Utah’s education programs and State budget, while also helping pay down the national debt.

Rep. Ivory’s proposal and bill is not without controversy as the federal government is unlikely to voluntarily give up control and ownership to land holdings in Utah based on a simple resolution. But I do believe the bill highlights the need for Utah to have a more bona fide role in the use and oversight of our public lands, including overseeing the careful development of our natural resources. I believe that there are solutions to the challenge of managing all uses while also being sensitive to legitimate environmental concerns. I would appreciate hearing from you on this issue and any other that you feel strongly about.

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