Economic study: Utah could benefit from managing public lands

SALT LAKE CITY – A 784-page economic impact study regarding the transfer of Utah’s public lands from federal to state control was released earlier this month. While projected costs of taking over management of the desired public lands reaches into the hundreds of millions of dollars, the revenue generated from those lands would cover the expense and then some, the report said.

Conducted by three state universities – University of Utah, Utah State University, and Weber State University – and released by the Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, the study titled “An Analysis of a Transfer of Federal Lands to the State of Utah” gives a boost to state officials and their supporters who advocate public lands management being handed over to the states.

The study is an outgrowth of the “Transfer of Public Lands Act,” also known as House Bill 148, passed in 2012 by the Utah Legislature and signed by Gov. Gary Herbert. The act demands that the federal government relinquish authority over 31.2 million acres of land it currently oversees through the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service by the end of 2014.

An estimated 65 percent of Utah is overseen by the federal agencies. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of the land west of Kansas is also managed by the federal government.

While HB 148 demands a transferral of land management, national parks, national monuments and tribal lands are not included in the act. The only exception is the Grand Staircase-Esclante National Monument.

“It is important to make decisions based upon a thorough review of accurate, relevant information,” Herbert said in a statement. “By conducting a thorough economic analysis, the Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office has provided policymakers with the data to assess the opportunities, challenges and risks associated with the potential transfer of public lands from federal to state ownership,”

According to the report, the projected costs of managing the lands will be around $228 million. However, those costs could possibly be offset by revenues generated by the public lands, anticipated to be around $331.7 million.

For its part, the federal government hasn’t necessarily been receptive of the idea of transferring public lands management. While still Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar scoffed at the idea of HB 148. Salazar told The Salt Lake Tribune that the legislation was nothing but a show.

“From my point of view, it defies common sense,” Salazar said.

Opponents of the idea, such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, have stated Utah has no right to ask for lands its never truly owned, and that it divested any potential rights to those lands when it became a state. SUWA also states on its website that Utah’s move to transfer land management is unconstitutional.

Another factor SUWA points to is found in the economic impact study itself, which has to do with the source of revenue from public land – namely mineral extraction.

Royalties from mineral extraction leases would make up 93 percent of the anticipated $331.7 million the state would collect. An estimated 83 percent ($257 million) of that would come from oil and gas leases. Coal makes up the second-largest revenue source at an annual average of $28.6 million.

Currently, Utah receives half of the mineral extraction royalties, with the other half goes to the federal government. Utah will need to receive 100 percent of the money generated from those leases in order to take in the revenue total that the study projects.

The land transfer could be profitable for the state if oil and gas prices remain stable and high and the state negotiates a change in the royalty revenue share from 50 percent to 100 percent,” the report states.

The report continues:

… At the lower price forecast, without a change in the royalty revenue share, oil and gas royalties would never be sufficient to cover the state’s costs. However, the state would have access to other revenue streams such as coal royalties; oil, gas and coal rents and bonus payments; and other land-based revenues. Nevertheless, it would be more prudent for the state to negotiate this change rather than gamble on oil and gas prices remaining high.

SUWA stated on its website:

The only way to make the numbers “pencil out” for Utah and make state management of public lands affordable is to dream of a pie-in-the-sky scenario in which the federal government not only hands over the lands to Utah, but also gives Utah its share of oil and gas revenues from those lands.

Recently the cost of oil has begun to decline worldwide and has hit a five-year low. This has negatively impacted the economies of heavy oil-exporting counties like Venezuela and Russia.

If plans regarding mineral extraction royalties don’t work out, SUWA, citing an analysis of the Utah study from The Center for Western Priorities, said Utah taxpayers could end up having to fill revenue shortfalls.

“Economists studied multiple scenarios for Utah to generate needed revenues,” SUWA states on its website. “In nearly all, Utah cannot afford the costs without putting Utah taxpayers on the hook for the difference. “According to the economists’ findings, Utah could come up between $35 million short and $69 million short per year.”

HB 148 was sponsored by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who also heads the American Lands Council, and isn’t deterred by the arguments raised by the opposition.

Under increasing federal control, access is being restricted,” Ivory told The Washington Times. “The health of the land is diminishing horribly. And the productivity is depressed. This is the only way to get better access, better health and better productivity.”

Should the federal government ignore the Dec. 31 deadline to transfer the public lands, Ivory said state officials will proceed with a four-step plan of education, negotiation, legislation and litigation.

During the Utah Republican Party Convention in April, Ivory was featured in a video advocating the transfer of public lands. He said on the video that the transfer “is the only solution big enough” to deal with issues related to funding public education, energy independence, and creating strong state economies.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

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23 Comments

  • Joe Smith December 8, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    Yup great idea, lets build a bunch of mines, and dirt roads, and gas and oil extraction sites all over some pristine wilderness. I’m sure Herbert’s rich friends will be real happy about it. The boys up in the LDS royalty would probably expect a cut as well… As Sarah Palin would say: “DRILL BABY DRILL!”

    • Dana December 9, 2014 at 4:46 am

      They won’t even build dirt roads. The good ol boys will just have their spawn ride in on their ATV’s and tear up the land.
      Look who did the so called “study”…University of Utah, Utah State University, and Weber State University … all are public schools and in large part STATE Funded. We already know in advance which way the “study” will slant.

  • Burton December 8, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. But I will be willing to bet Delong doesn’t. “Let the federal government control all the land and every aspect of my life” the liberals say. (Since they have such a good track record managing anything) I am certain ol’ “flavor-aid or Kool-Aid” or whatever his name is will have something obnoxious to say as well. That is after they are done saluting their big government Obama fathead posters first.

    • Joe Smith December 9, 2014 at 5:44 am

      I bet you have a big portrait of W. hanging over your mantle and maybe one of Cheney over your bed too.

      • Burton December 9, 2014 at 8:21 am

        Actually mine are general George and the gipper. From the looks of it most of you have probably never heard of them.

  • Brian December 8, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    I agree completely with the report. The feds should honor the original agreement with the western states, same as they have with the eastern states. I’ve gone on ATV rides near Moab where there were a bunch of natural gas wells, and you could barely even tell they were there. It was still a gorgeous area and a peaceful ride. I’m sick of federal over-reach and the nanny state. We the People created the federal government, not the other way around.

    • Chris December 9, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      The “original agreement” you refer to is a complete myth. Try reading the Utah Enabling Act of 1894, and the Organic Acts of 1850. Neither gives any hint of this “agreement.” In fact, in the enabling act, the following contradicts the notion: “The said State of Utah shall not be entitled to any further or other grants of land for any purpose than as expressly provided in this act.” Furthermore, the Utah constitution expressly disavows any claims to the public lands.

  • George Bush December 8, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    I’m quite sure the state of Utah. can manage it’s own land without any interference from the federal thugs

    • Koolaid December 9, 2014 at 10:56 pm

      Before Utah asks for land from the Feds, it ought to ask for land grabbed by the church. I’d rather see the Federal Government own these lands than see Utah hand it over to the church.

  • …* BASHER BASHER December 9, 2014 at 12:15 am

    Hey Burton you’re the Obnoxious IDIOT.. Right Wing NUTS don’t want the government involved in their lives. Until it’s something they Don’t agree upon.. Dont let those …* Marry!! Lets WASTE Hundreds of of dollars on extremely Frivolous lawsuits on a issue Worldwide and evolution has already DECIDED… GROW UP.& GET ALONG WITH OTHERS…
    Ed. ellipses: …*

    • Brian December 9, 2014 at 10:07 am

      Actually, the lawsuit was to keep the feds out of the marriage issue and to leave it a states rights issue. And yes, evolution has decided on homosexuality, and gays can’t survive on their own. Regardless of sexual preference, evolution states with surety that every human being has one mommy and one daddy, just as it should be.

      • Chris December 9, 2014 at 3:41 pm

        Evolution does not “state” anything.

        • Simone December 9, 2014 at 11:24 pm

          Don’t even bother with Burton here Chris. He is a man who believes that Fox News is a credible news outlet and that if you blindly follow the teachings of a small group of OLD WHITE MEN you will get your own planet when you die

  • Delong December 9, 2014 at 12:37 am

    The state can’t manage the land it has now and takes 40% of it’s current budget from the Feds. This is laughable considering Utah filed six FEMA declarations in 2012 for wildfires on state and private land.

    I’m a realist, Burton and have never once voted democrat. Ever since The Bundy circus, I realize the political atmosphere in Utah is way out there. Keep dreaming conspiracy buddy. This state doesn’t have anything over on the Feds according to the numbers.

    And if you’re a big game hunter like me, why would you ever support this? Have you ever been to Texas where there is no public land and no access to DIY hunts? What a waste of taxpayer money Utah has on display. The land transfer will never happen. What a joke!

    • Brian December 9, 2014 at 10:10 am

      Look at a map of which lands the federal government controls and where the natural resources are in Utah. The correlation is stunning. The feds take the 65% of Utah with the most natural resources, don’t allow us to access them, and you’re surprised that we get 40% of our budget from the feds? Give us control of our own lands and education and we won’t need any budget from the feds (except interstate highways, as it should be, since that is a legitimate federal issue).

  • Delong December 9, 2014 at 8:42 am

    There’s a reason Utah is the only state in the west wanting public land. Nothing the state manages now costs less than the Feds. Look at a Utah’s grazing allotments and every other parcel they auction off to the highest bidder.

    • Brian December 9, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      Apparently you haven’t heard of Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Washington, or Oregon. All belong to a coalition of western states fighting to get lands back from the federal government. Just because Utah is taking the lead, doesn’t mean their alone. This fight has been going on for many, many years, but it’s finally starting to gain traction.

      • Burton December 9, 2014 at 8:56 pm

        Good luck Brian. I already tried to reason with these people and use facts on them. It doesn’t work. They only use MSNBC and Jon stewart talking points anyways. Don’t waste your breathe my man.

  • Delong December 9, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Brian, is that why all the sportsman’s groups are petitioning against it? Lol. They see the writing on the wall if Utah gets it’s way. The land transfer won’t happen but still…

    • Burton December 9, 2014 at 9:00 pm

      Hey good ol buddy Delong. If and when the state takes control of its public lands not only will your hunting not change at all, but also you wont have the “bullies of land management” harassing you all the time so they can feel better about them selves and get their little rocks off. The rest of us are hunters too and understand the big picture. Not just our own personal agendas.

      • Koolaid December 9, 2014 at 10:58 pm

        You probably will have some church dictating who can go there. I’d rather see the land remain in the Federal Govt than see Utah give it to some church.

  • Red Rocker December 9, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    Personally, I don’t trust states to manage land that belongs to we the people.

    • Burton December 9, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      But you trust the so called “transparent” federal government!!!!!!!!!!!!!?????????? The master blasters of lies and deception??????????? Geitner, Holder, Obama, Hillary, Ried, Pelosi, Gubler, Lerner!!!!!!!!?????????? The list never ends!!! The feds have run EVERY agency they run into the ground! AND YOU PEOPLE STILL FLOCK TO THESE liars!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND CHEATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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