Utah State Representative Chris Herrod has gotten a lot of attention since his bill to explore seizing federal land through eminent domain became law last month. Colleagues in other Western legislatures have called seeking tips on replicating his success in their states. And the law was a topic of discussion this week when U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar paid a visit to Salt Lake City.
A majority of the land in Utah, as in many Western states, is owned by the federal government. Herrod’s measure treats the federal government like any other property owner in the state. It allows Washington to keep the rights and title to the land but not ultimate jurisdiction over it. That jurisdiction rests with Utah, and it means that federal land holdings may be subject to state eminent domain authority.
To Herrod, the law is an expression of long-simmering anger. Last year, he watched as the new Obama administration canceled 77 leases to oil and gas companies that had been approved by President George W. Bush. Then he saw a leaked administration memo that purported to list 14 sites as possible new national monuments, two of them in Utah.
Outrage over federal land policies is nothing new in Western states, where local officials have long sought to develop public land and collect tax revenue from it. Now, with Democrats in charge in Washington and conservative activists energized in their opposition towards the Obama administration’s health care, energy and budget policies, some in the West are trying to counter what they see as federal heavy-handedness in land-use matters. Herrod, a Republican, has spoken at Tea Party rallies trying to tap into that anger, although he is wary of calling his bill a “Tea Party bill.” ...
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