WASHINGTON, D.C. — Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee issued statements Thursday in opposition to Sen. Barbara Boxers’s, Sense of Congress amendment regarding federal protected land.
While I respect Senator Boxer’s position, I must wholeheartedly disagre. Under no circumstances should we encourage the federal government to seize any more land from the states or from the American people. In fact, we should be transferring federal lands to the states wherever possible. Utah both enjoys and relies on a robust outdoor sports and recreation industry that thrives on access to our beautiful mountain ranges, lakes, canyons, red rocks, and desert landscapes. Lastly, research has consistently shown that local citizens and governments prove better stewards over their lands than the federal government.
In a state like Utah, where the federal government owns upwards of two-thirds of all the land, the ability of our state economy to grow and to raise the revenue necessary to fund public priorities like roads and education is severely diminished. We don’t need to be encouraging the federal government to make it even harder on our state and local communities. In fact, quite the opposite. We need to give states more control over the land within their borders and leave more of the management, maintenance, and conservation up to local officials.
The Congressional Research Service released a study in December indicating that the federal government manages roughly 28 percent of the land in the United States and a majority of the land in Utah.
In 1996, President Clinton designated 1.7 million acres of land in Garfield and Kane counties as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This designation has created significant economic hardships to the local community, from blocking energy development on the monument to significant reductions in permitted grazing.
More background on the wrongheadedness of this amendment, according to the release issued by Hatch’s office, includes:
1. The federal government is not well-equipped to oversee any additional land
The same study also showed that the federal government has done a poor job managing the land, with a combined maintenance backlog total as much as $26.5 billion dollars.
The National Park Service’s maintenance backlog has increased from $4.25 billion in fiscal year 1999 to as much as $13.42 billion in fiscal year 2013. More than half of the backlogged maintenance was for roads, bridges, and trails.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s maintenance backlog was as much as $2.39 billion in fiscal year 2013.
The Bureau of Land Management’s maintenance backlog was as much as $820 million in fiscal year 2013.
The Forest Service’s maintenance backlog was as much as $6.03 billion in fiscal year 2012.
Senator Boxer’s amendment broadly asserts that public land designations provide a benefit to local and regional communities and economies, and designations of federally protected land should continue where appropriate and with consultation by local communities, bipartisan elected leaders, and interested stakeholders.
2. Congress designates public lands, not the president
The first clause of the Boxer amendment finds that “Presidents of both parties have designated public lands….” But the president does not have the power to designate public land. Rather, the Property Clause in the U.S. Constitution (Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2) grants Congress sole authority over federal property, including its acquisition and disposal. Congress has designated a portion of this authority to the Department of the Interior.
The president does have authority to designate national monuments. President Obama has exerted this authority to designate large portions of public space as national monuments, designating a large swath of the Pacific as off-limits to fishing and energy exploration, and the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California as a national monument, over the objections of local residents.
Submitted by the offices of Sen. Orrin Hatch
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