Utah state lawmakers are gearing up for what could be a protracted legal battle over the ownership of millions of acres of federal land in the state. A new state law asserts that Utah has eminent domain authority over federal monuments, wilderness areas and parks based on its interpretation of the 1894 Utah Enabling Act. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.
A bill signed last week by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) authorizing the state to take federal land by eminent domain could induce other Western states to try to reclaim their own national monuments and landmarks, eventually opening them for energy production and other development.
Utah lawmakers say they have contacted representatives in Arizona, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming about adopting similar legislation in their states, with the goal of taking the issue to the Supreme Court.
But legal analysts say the issue of ownership over federal lands has long been decided by the courts in the federal government's favor and Utah and other states seeking eminent domain claims against the federal government are wasting taxpayer money on political gestures that have virtually no chance of success.
"I would say it's frivolous and clearly unconstitutional," said Adam Babich, director of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic in New Orleans.
Still, Utah lawmakers are adamant that the eminent domain legislation signed by Herbert on Saturday is worth a commitment of $3 million in legal fees to defend because, if successful, it could raise the tax base and bolster underfunded public schools.