House passes Stewart’s ACE Act, touted as ‘win-win’ for school children and conservation

U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart discusses public lands issues a during a summit held at Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, March 27, 2018 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – A congressional bill that would streamline the process for Utah and 12 other states to exchange state trust lands locked within public lands for parcels that can be used for revenue generation for schools unanimously passed the House Monday.

H.R. 4257, the “Advancing Conservation and Education Act” is sponsored by Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart and Colorado Democrat Rep. Jared Polis. Stewart has touted bill’s bipartisan nature as a reason for its advancement.

The ACE Act proves we can come together to solve complex public land issues. It’s a win for Utah, a win for school kids, and a win for conservation,” Stewart said in a statement Monday. “I’m eager for this bipartisan piece of legislation to be passed by the Senate, signed into law, and begin benefiting children across the West.”

State trust lands generate over $3.8 billion annually to benefit public schools within the states. This money can come from the many ways the trust lands are used. Some are sold for development while others generate revenue from recreational use or sell leases related to mineral extraction.

However, millions of acres of state school trust lands are trapped within wilderness areas, national parks, national monuments and other areas that have been set aside for conservation purposes.

Within Utah, it is the mandate of Utah’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, or SITLA, to use the trust lands to the highest advantage of their beneficiaries – the state’s school children, Kyle Pasley, SITLA’s deputy assistant director, previously told St. George News.

Having school trust lands locked within federally managed and protected lands doesn’t exactly help expedite SITLA’s purpose, or that of its counterparts in other Western states.

“SITLA has supported this effort for years and we appreciated the opportunity to assist in crafting it,” Dave Ure, SITLA’s director, wrote in a letter submitted to Polis and Stewart earlier this year. “We believe ACE will be a valuable tool that will improve our ability to manage out lands and to insure completion of conservation areas in Utah.”

Other Western states that could request a swapping of land under the ACT Act include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.

“The Ace Act is a win-win for both the environment and schools, two things I care deeply about,” Polis said in a statement. “By cutting red tape between state land trusts and the federal government, we can protect our most precious wilderness areas, while generating more revenue for local governments and schools that desperately need it.”

This bill is supported by the Western States Land Commissioners Association, the Wilderness Society, the State of Utah’s School & Institutional Trust Lands Administration, and other groups.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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