During the 2012 General Session, the Utah Legislature passed H.B. 148, “Transfer of Public Lands Act and Related Study,” in an effort to develop a new model for public land management and use. Governor Herbert signed the bill into law on March 23, 2012. H.B. 148 provides a framework for transferring public lands into State ownership. Public lands contemplated by the bill exclude national parks, all national monuments (except the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument), specific congressionally-designated wilderness areas, Department of Defense areas, and tribal lands.
Is H.B. 148 Legal?
H.B. 148 is rooted in the historic federal land policy in place at the time of Utah’s statehood. This policy entailed disposing of public lands to pay off federal debt and to encourage the settlement of western lands for the benefit of the states and the nation. It was very much a part of the various enabling acts that authorized new states to join the Union. Additionally, the United States’ disposal of public lands to the State of Utah was a significant benefit of the bargain Utah made with the federal government at the time of statehood.
How Can Utahns Benefit?
Today, approximately two-thirds of Utah’s energy resources are located on federally owned lands. Conflicting and cumbersome federal rules, regulations, processes, and management policies often prevent development of these resources resulting in diminished revenue to the State and its citizens. H.B. 148 initiative would increase Utah’s ability to access and responsibly develop its energy resources.
Decisions by Utahns, whose lives and livelihoods depend on prudent stewardship of the lands, will better reflect local needs and interests. Improved land management will also serve the national goal of maximizing the economic productivity and environmental benefits of the lands.
PLPCO’s Role and Efforts in Supporting H.B. 148
H.B. 148 involves many practical and some legal considerations regarding the actual transfer of public lands into State ownership. To address these issues, the legislature directed the Constitutional Defense Council (CDC), to conduct studies on potential land transfer and to prepare a report and recommendations to legislative interim committees.
PLPCO’s staff and attorneys assigned to the Public Lands Section of the Attorney General’s Office created two reports presented to the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee and the Education Interim Committee on November 2, 2012.
- “Report on Utah’s Transfer of Public Lands Act: H.B.148” describes the historical context of H.B. 148 and contains information regarding the ownership and economics of the public lands. It also makes recommendations regarding future steps in the land transfer initiative.
- “Toward a Balanced Public Lands Policy: A Case Statement for the H.B. 148: Utah’s Transfer of Public Lands Act” explains the necessity of change in public lands policy and rationalizes the suggested mechanism for transferring public lands into State ownership.
H.B. 142 and the Economic Feasibility of Transferring Public Lands
In 2013, Utah Legislature passed H.B. 142, giving PLPCO the responsibility of directing and overseeing a study and economic analysis of the transfer of public lands contemplated by H.B. 148. PLPCO put together a team of economists from the University of Utah, Utah State University, and Weber State University to conduct the analysis. The team worked on the study for over 18 months preparing a final report “An Analysis of a Transfer of Federal Lands to the State of Utah”.
The 700+ page study examines economic feasibility of the proposed lands transfer. The study provides information about the current uses of land, the economic effects and non-economic benefits of those uses, and the ramifications of any transfer. Additionally, the study estimates the costs of managing the transferred lands and identifies the state agencies that could manage those lands. The study will guide the Utah Legislatures when the 2015 legislative session convenes in January.
PLPCO also prepared its own report to the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee — “Pathway to a Balanced Public Lands Policy.” This report reviews and summarizes the economic study, finding it to be a cautionary, yet optimistic analysis of the opportunities and challenges facing a public lands transfer. The main challenge is finding the proper balance between preserving and protecting Utah’s many scenic areas and dispersing the lands economic value and net benefit over the entire state. Such balance can be achieved. “