Utah’s Authority Over Its Land Is Threatened

Published July 1, 2008

The Sierra Club and congressmen from New York and Illinois are leading a campaign to pressure the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to restrict the authority of Utah officials to determine how land in the state will be utilized.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), and a Sierra Club affiliate organized 95 congresspersons–mostly eastern state Democrats–in writing a letter to the federal BLM urging it to overrule the Utah Bureau of Land Management and ban energy recovery in more than three million acres of rich energy deposits in the state.

The letter was circulated by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), an affiliate of the Sierra Club. Notably, not one of the congressmen signing the petition was from Utah.

Oil Production a ‘Scar’

The April 16 letter seeking federal restrictions on Utah state land complains 86 percent of the land at issue “would be vulnerable to … oil and gas development.”

The letter argues, “Unfortunately, the preferred alternatives in the draft plans offer virtually no protection for these three million acres. These roadless areas would be vulnerable to damaging off-road vehicle use; oil, gas, and hardrock mineral development; and other development threats. Indeed, the BLM’s preferred plans would authorize nearly 1,000 miles of off-road vehicle routes in these roadless areas. Eighty-six percent of this land would be open for oil and gas development.”

The letter argues the federal government must usurp state control of the land to protect it “from the scars of off-road vehicle routes and energy development.”

Utah Wants Multiple Use

Utah state Rep. Mike Noel (R-Kanab) disagrees strongly. “Utah already is burdened with seemingly endless federal restrictions and federal ownership over millions of acres of land within our borders,” he said at a February news conference. “One thing we don’t need is the federal government–or East Coast-funded extremist groups operating in our state–further restricting the public’s access to public lands.”

State Rep. Roger Barrus (R-Centerville), chairman of the state House’s Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee, agreed. “At a time when it is obvious that global energy demand will soon outpace that which we use in the United States, it is only prudent that we not shackle our ability to produce energy from the natural resources on public lands located in our state by creating more wildernesses,” Barrus said at the news conference.

‘Suffered Enough’

“Poor Utah has suffered enough at the hands of the environmental movement, what with the ‘monument’ locking up an enormous deposit of clean coal,” said Chris Horner, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, referring to the 1996 commissioning as a national monument some 1.7 million acres of land in Utah containing nearly one trillion dollars’ worth of clean-burning coal.

“Seeking to do this again, with or without Utah’s participation, is just more of the same,” Horner said. “But the fact of the matter is that what Utahans think is the last concern of the land-lockup types.”

“The hubris of Eastern legislators is not surprising, but it knows no bounds,” said Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis. “They regularly impose their desired land-use ideals on Western states.

“Eastern states certainly were not required to give up sovereignty over large parts of their territory to become a part of the Union,” Burnett added. “Can you imagine the outcry if Wyoming or Texas tried to dictate how New Yorkers would be allowed to use Long Island or even Central Park?”

Aleksandrs Karnick ([email protected]) writes from Indianapolis, Indiana.