Utah strikes back at Federal intrusion

In Utah, a move to seize federal land

The state House passes a bill allowing the use of eminent domain to take protected land from the federal government. Utah wants to develop a stretch outside Arches National Park and other areas.

Reporting from Salt Lake City — Long frustrated by Washington's control over much of their state, Utah legislators are proposing a novel way to deal with federal land -- seize it and develop it.

The Utah House of Representatives last week passed a bill allowing the state to use eminent domain to take land the federal government owns and has long protected from development.

The state wants to develop three hotly contested areas -- national forest land in the Wasatch Mountains north of Salt Lake City, land in a proposed wilderness area in the red rock southwestern corner of the state, and a stretch of desert outside of Arches National Park that the Obama administration has declared off-limits to oil and gas development.

Supporters argue that provisions in the legislation that granted Utah statehood allow it to make such a land grab. (How the hell can a state be guilty of a "land grab" if they're trying to take it BACK from the Feds?) They also hope to spark a showdown in the Supreme Court that would rearrange the balance of power between states and the federal government. (And if our Constitution really is the supreme law of the land, then Utah would beat the crap out of the Feds with the 10th amendment club - and that would be the end of the controversy)

Some legal experts say the effort is unlikely to succeed, but Republican state Rep. Chris Herrod, one of the authors of the bill, said the state had little choice.

"I love America, and I'm a peaceful guy," Herrod said, "but the only real option we have is rebellion, which I don't believe in, and the courts."

The eminent domain proposal is among the most audacious yet in a state accustomed to heated battles over the two-thirds of its land owned by the federal government.

This is the state, after all, where local officials bulldozed their own roads through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, tore down signs barring off-roading in Canyonlands National Park and, with funding from the statehouse, spent years unsuccessfully defending those actions in federal court.

The eminent domain proposal quickly drew scorn from environmental groups. (Of course it did!)

"This is an ideological fantasy," said Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance in Moab. "Everybody knows this isn't going to happen. The federal public lands are the thing that makes the American West so great." (Typical government-worshipper rhetoric)

The proposal is one of a host in statehouses nationwide that show a deep discontent with federal authority. Eight legislatures have passed resolutions asserting, to various degrees, the sovereignty of their states.

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