The Koch Brothers Are Now Funding The Bundy Land Seizure Agenda

— by Jenny Roland & Matt Lee-Ashley, Guest Contributors at ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: AP Photo / Rick Bowmer

The political network of the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has signaled that it is expanding its financial and organizational support for a coalition of anti-government activists and militants who are working to seize and sell America’s national forests, monuments, and other public lands.

The disclosure, made through emails sent by the American Lands Council and Koch-backed group Federalism in Action to their members, comes as the 40-day armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon is winding to an end.

The occupation came to a head, with the FBI moving in on the four remaining militants at the refuge and arresting scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy at the Portland airport under charges of conspiracy to impede federal officers. Occupation leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy were previously arrested under the same charge on January 26. The Bundys and their group of militants want the federal government to cede national public lands to state and private control.

Though ClimateProgress has previously uncovered and reported on the dark money that the Kochs have provided for political efforts to seize and sell public lands, recent organizational changes reveal that the Koch network is providing direct support to the ringleader of the land grab movement, Utah state representative Ken Ivory, and has forged an alliance with groups and individuals who have militia ties and share extreme anti-government ideologies.

The expanded window into the Koch network’s support for the land transfer movement opened on February 3, 2016, when the American Lands Council (ALC) (a group whose goal is to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over publicly owned national forests and other public lands) announced that Ivory would be stepping down as its president to join a South Carolina-based group called Federalism in Action (FIA).

At ALC, Ivory had risen to be the most prominent and active voice in the land seizure movement, but his tenure as president was plagued by evidence that the group violated state lobbying laws, was tied to the Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and used taxpayer money to fund their campaigns to seize public lands.

Though he will continue to serve as an unpaid member of the American Lands Council executive committee, Ivory is joining the FIA’s “Free the Lands” project, a joint initiative between Federalism in Action and The American Lands Council Foundation.

This new “Free the Lands” project sits at the confluence of Koch funding, anti-government ideology, and land seizure activists and militants. The graphic below illustrates this web of funding, resources, and staff.

dylanbundy
Credit: Dylan Petrohilos

Federalism in Action was launched a few years ago by two groups: State Policy Network and State Budget Solutions (SBS). Because FIA is a new organization, its funding sources are not yet public. However, according to IRS filings, State Budget Solutions received money through the Donors Capital Fund, an organization known for cloaking the sources of funding which it distributes, and is sometimes referred to as a Koch “ATM”. The SBS leadership recently joined ALEC and Ken Ivory is listed as one of SBS’s senior policy fellows. The group “works to make its vision … a reality … through the project Federalism In Action.”

Federalism in Action is also a member of the State Policy Network, which is the Koch-fundednetwork of more than 50 right-wing think tanks in states across the country.

Also supporting the Free the Lands Project: the American Lands Council Foundation, the tax-exempt non-profit arm of the American Lands Council. Upon announcing the departure of Ken Ivory from ALC’s presidency, the group named Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder as its CEO. Fielder is Montana’s leading figure in the land seizure movement and has proposed legislation that would require the federal government to cede ownership of all national forests and public lands in Montana to the state. The bill was unpopular and and swiftly vetoed by Montana Governor Steve Bullock.

Fielder’s selection as ALC’s CEO suggests that the group is tightening its ties with the violent anti-government elements of the land seizure movement that is represented by Cliven Bundy and his sons. Fielder’s land seizure efforts and campaign for Montana State Senate, for example, werevocally supported by a Militia of Montana organization that is run by white supremacist John Trochmann. In a recent blog post Fielder also expressed her support for the Bundys and the Oregon militants by referring to them fondly as “cowboys” and “protesters” performing “an act of civil disobedience” and bringing “new light to the widespread problems of a distant federal bureaucracy in control of local land management decisions.”

It remains to be seen whether the Koch network will be able to lift the failing efforts of the Bundys, Ken Ivory, and Jennifer Fielder to seize and sell public lands. If nothing else, expanded Koch backing may help the land seizure movement attract the endorsement of more national politicians who are competing for the Koch brothers’ endorsement and contributions. Last week, for example, Texas Senator Ted Cruz promised to be “vigorously committed to transferring as much federal land as humanly possible back to the states”.

Still, the Bundy brothers and their political allies face long odds in their quest. Proposals to transfer national public lands to state control have been shown to be unconstitutional, costly to states, and deeply unpopular with western voters. And while a wholesale privatization of public lands may benefit the Koch brothers and other oil, gas, and coal interests, new research shows that protecting national public lands has actually resulted in big economic gains for many rural economies.


Jenny Rowland is the Research and Advocacy Associate for the Public Lands Project at Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @jennyhrowland. Matt Lee-Ashley is a Senior Fellow with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. Follow him on Twitter @MLeeAshley.

This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. ‘Like’ CAP Action on Facebook and ‘follow’ us on Twitter

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How Politicians Are Using Taxpayer Money To Fund Their Campaign and To Sell Off America’s Public Lands

— by Matt Lee-Ashley, Guest Contributor at ThinkProgress-Climate

west land
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/REED SAXON

The recent Cliven Bundy debacle in Nevada put a national spotlight on the long-running, and long-failing, effort by right-wing Western legislators to seize federal public lands and either turn them over to the states or sell them to the highest bidder.

While the renewal of this so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion” has thus far been carried out with limited resources by part-time legislators like State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-UT), new research shows that its leaders are now using taxpayer money from at least 42 counties in nine Western states to advance an aggressive and coordinated campaign to seize America’s public lands and national forests for drilling, mining, and logging.

According to a ThinkProgress analysis, the American Lands Council (ALC) — an organization created to help states to claim ownership of federal lands — has collected contributions of taxpayer money from government officials in 18 counties in Utah, 10 counties in Nevada, four counties in Washington, three counties in Arizona, two counties in Oregon, two counties in New Mexico, and one county in Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming. In total, county-level elected officials have already paid the ALC more than $200,000 in taxpayer money. A list of these counties and their “membership levels” can be seen on the ALC website.

Since its inception in 2012, the ALC has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative front group backed by the oil and gas industry and billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over federally owned national forests and public lands to Western states. So far, Utah is the only state to have signed a law calling for the seizure of federal lands, but Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have passed bills to study the idea and further action is expected in statehouses during 2015 legislative sessions.

Legal experts report that Utah’s law, and similar bills being advanced by ALC and ALEC are in clear violation of Article IV of the Constitution, are in conflict with the laws that established Western states, and would be overturned if ever tested in federal court.

As the American Lands Council has grown in influence and resources, its activities have received new scrutiny. ALC President Ken Ivory, for example, reportedly earned more than $40,000 from the organization in 2012 (his salary for 2013 has not yet been disclosed). According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Ivory’s wife, Becky, also receives payments from the ALC.

A recent fundraising email obtained by ThinkProgress also shows that at least one ALC member, Washington County, Utah Commissioner Alan Gardner, is using his government title and government email account to raise money for ALC’s lobbying efforts and training of political candidates.

The fundraising solicitation that was sent from Gardner’s official government email address on June 13 asks county governments to contribute $1,000 to become a “Bronze” member, $5,000 to become a “Silver” member, or $25,000 to become a “Gold” member of the ALC.  Gardner confirmed to ThinkProgress that he was the author of the email.

The fundraising solicitation says that up to $100,000 will be spent by ALC on a “Campaign Project” aimed at equipping candidates for federal, state, and county office with “materials and resources to build broad based Knowledge and Courage to compel Congress to honor its promise to us and our children to transfer title to the public lands….” Gardner’s email also reports that the funds will be used for lobbyists, a legal team, polling, and engaging the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.

ALC’s use of county funds adds to the growing cost to taxpayers of the right-wing land seizure movement. The state of Utah, for example, has already spent more than $500,000 to study a takeover of federal land and has set aside an additional $3 million for legal fees to fight the federal government in court. In Idaho, when the Attorney General’s office questioned the legality of seizing federal lands, legislators in the state spent more than$20,000 on private counsel. In Nevada, a federal land seizure study cost taxpayers more than $66,000, while a special task force to study the issue in Wyoming cost taxpayers$30,000.

In addition to using taxpayer funds to advance unconstitutional bills to seize federal lands, the ALC also relies on financial support from the mining industry and fossil fuel interest groups. Americans for Prosperity, for example — another group financed by the Koch brothers — is listed as a “Bronze Member” of ALC. Mesa Exploration, a mining company whose recent proposal to build a potash mine in an area that the Donner Party crossed in 1846 was recently nixed by federal land managers, is also listed as a “Bronze Member” on ALC’s website.

Matt Lee-Ashley is a senior fellow and director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow him on Twitter at @MLeeAshley.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Oklahoma Will Charge Customers Who Install Their Own Solar Panels

The American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) is promoting legislation with goals ranging from penalizing individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency from fulfilling its currently legislated functions.  ALEC sponsored at least 77 energy bills in 34 states last year.  Those measures were aimed at opposing renewable energy standards, pushing through the Keystone XL pipeline project, and barring any oversight of fracking (hydraulic fracturing).  One such “ALEC” bill has recently come to fruition in Oklahoma, where they’ll now be charging homeowners who have Solar Panels or Wind Turbine generators to use the grid when they have excess generation.  (Those who don’t generate, will NOT be charged grid usage fees, just those who do generate … will.)  In other words, homeowners in Oklahoma with solar panels have to pay the Utilities to let their solar generation support the Utility’s peaking needs.  

I have a solar panel array on my rooftop.  Sometimes I manage to generate more than I use, but that doesn’t happen 24 hours a day.  Nevada Energy utilizes my less expensive generation to help supply its generation needs.  Thus, it’s a symbiotic relationship.  Why should I have to pay to provide them with generation they’ll turn around and sell for more than it cost me to generate it?  

If Nevada is so stupid as to pass the same ill-advised legislation, I’ll invest in batteries and go completely off the grid!  Nevada Energy will just have to figure out where it’s going to get the money to build more expensive generation capabilities to meet its customer’s peaking needs when enough of us have had enough and start dropping off the grid altogether. — Vickie Rock, editor

_____________

— by Kiley Kroh 

solar

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

Oklahoma residents who produce their own energy through solar panels or small wind turbines on their property will now be charged an additional fee, the result of a new bill passed by the state legislature and expected to be signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin (R-OK).

On Monday, S.B. 1456 passed the state House 83-5 after no debate. The measure creates a new class of customers: those who install distributed power generation systems like solar panels or small wind turbines on their property and sell the excess energy back to the grid. While those with systems already installed won’t be affected, the new class of customers will now be charged a monthly fee — a shift that happened quickly and caught many in the state off guard.

“We knew nothing about it and all of a sudden it’s attached to some other bill,” Ctaci Gary, owner of Sun City Oklahoma, told ThinkProgress. “It just appeared out of nowhere.”

Because the surcharge amount has not been determined, Gary is cautious about predicting the impact it will have on her business. She has already received multiple calls from people asking questions about the bill and wanting to have solar systems installed before the new fee takes effect. “We’re going to use it as a marketing tool,” Gary said. “People deserve to have an opportunity [to install their own solar panels] and not be charged.”

“It is unfortunate that some utilities that enthusiastically support wind power for their own use are promoting a regressive policy that will make it harder for their customers to use wind power on their own,” said Mike Bergey, president & CEO of Bergey Windpower in Norman, Oklahoma, in a statement. “Oklahoma offers tax credits for large wind turbines which are built elsewhere, but wants to penalize small wind which we manufacture here in the state? That makes no sense to me.”

The bill was staunchly opposed by renewable energy advocates, environmental groups and the conservative group TUSK, but had the support of Oklahoma’s major utilities. “Representatives of Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma said the surcharge is needed to recover some of the infrastructure costs to send excess electricity safely from distributed generation back to the grid,” the Oklahoman reported.

“We’re not anti-solar or anti-wind or trying to slow this down, we’re just trying to keep it fair,” Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman Kathleen O’Shea told the Oklahoman. “We’ve been studying this trend. We know it’s coming, and we want to get ahead of it.”

But distributed energy sources also provide a clear value to utility companies. Solar generates during peak hours, when a utility has to provide electricity to more people than at other times during the day and energy costs are at their highest. Solar panels actually feed excess energy back to the grid, helping to alleviate the pressure during peak demand. In addition, because less electricity is being transmitted to customers through transmission lines, it saves utilities on the wear and tear to the lines and cost of replacing them with new ones.

As the use of solar power skyrockets across the U.S., fights have sprung up in several states over how much customers should be compensated for excess power produced by their solar panels and sold back to the grid — a policy known as net metering. Net metering laws have come under fire from the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group backed by fossil fuel corporations, utility companies, and the ultra-conservative Koch brothers. Forty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have net metering policies in place and ALEC has set its sights on repealing them,referring to homeowners with their own solar panels as “freeriders on the system.” ALEC presented Gov. Fallin the Thomas Jefferson Freedom award last year for her “record of advancing the fundamental Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism and individual liberty as a nationally recognized leader.”

Oklahoma “could be the first complete defeat for solar advocates in their fight against utility efforts to recover costs lost to DG [distributed generation] use,”writes Utility Dive. Net metering survived attacks in Colorado  and Kansas  and Vermont recently increased its policy in a bipartisan effort. Last year, Arizona added what amounts to a $5 per month surcharge for solar customers, a move that was widely seen as a compromise, particularly after ALEC and other Koch-backed groups got involved.

While any extra charge placed on potential customers is a concern, Gary hopes that like Arizona, Oklahoma’s fee is modest enough to protect her business from serious damage.

Matt Kasper, energy research assistant at the Center for American Progress, contributed to this piece.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Moving to Cleaner Energy — Letting the Sun Shine In

Why would the ALEC network of state-level lobbyists want to make solar energy cost-prohibitive for homeowners and businesses?

By Isaiah J. Poole

Isaiah_Poole

Now the Koch brothers are coming after my solar panels.

I had solar panels installed on the roof of our Washington, D.C. home this year. My household took advantage of a generous tax incentive from the District government and a creative leasing deal offered by the solar panel seller.

Our electric bills fell by at least a third. When people make this choice, the regional electric company grows less pressured to spend money to expand generating capacity and the installation business creates good local jobs. Customers who use solar energy also reduce carbon emissions.

caf-alec-Brookhaven National LaboratoryWhat’s not to love?

According to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative network better known as ALEC, our solar panels make us “free riders.” What?

Yes, according to ALEC, an organization that specializes in getting the right-wing agenda written into state laws, people like me who invest in energy-efficiency and shrinking our carbon footprints ought to be penalized.

Why does ALEC want us punished? Since it’s bankrolled by, among others, the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, it’s hard not to surmise that they’re worried about a threat to fossil fuels businesses. Koch Industries’ operations include refineries, oil and natural gas pipelines, and petrochemicals

That’s no conspiracy theory. Recently the British newspaper The Guardian wrote about the assault on solar panels as part of a broader exposé on ALEC.

John Eick, the legislative analyst for ALEC’s energy, environment and agriculture program, confirmed to The Guardian that the organization would support making solar panel users pay extra for the electricity they generate. That’s already about to happen in Arizona, where homeowners who use solar panels will pay an average of about $5 extra a month for the privilege, starting in January.

The solar power industry called the new rule a victory only because power companies in the state were demanding assessments of as much as $100 a month — more than high enough to deter families from considering switching to solar.

Making solar energy cost-prohibitive for homeowners and businesses is part of a larger ALEC objective, affirmed at its recent annual meeting, to continue its effort to eliminate state renewable energy mandates.

According to meeting minutes, ALEC has already succeeded in getting legislation introduced in 15 states to “reform, freeze, or repeal their state’s renewable mandate.” ALEC lobbyists are pushing policies through states that will speed up climate change and increase pollution. They’re threatening the renewable energy industry, which is already creating new jobs and saving money for homeowners and businesses.

Without the current policy paralysis in Washington and a lack of bold, creative thinking about how to build a new, green economy at the national level, they wouldn’t be making so much headway.

My organization, Institute for America’s Future — together with the Center for American Progress and the BlueGreen Alliance — recently published a report that shows what’s at stake with ALEC’s destructive agenda.

Our “green industrial revolution” report recommends tying together a series of regional solutions that take advantage of the unique assets of each part of the country, such as the abundance of sun in the West and the wind off the Atlantic coast, into a cohesive whole.

These regional strategies would be supported by smart federal policies, such as establishing a price for carbon emissions and a national clean energy standard, creating certainty and stability in the alternative energy tax credit market, and providing strong support for advanced energy manufacturing.

This is the way to unleash the kind of innovation and job creation our economy — and our rapidly warming planet — desperately needs.

My solar panels are the envy of my block and I wish more of my neighbors will be able to make the same choice I did. But they won’t if fossil-fuel dinosaurs like the Koch brothers and right-wing organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council keep casting their dark clouds on efforts to build a clean energy future.

It’s time for them to step aside and let the sun shine in.


Isaiah J. Poole is the editor of OurFuture.org, the website of the Campaign for America’s Future. OurFuture.org.  Photo credit to:  Brookhaven National Laboratory/Flickr,  Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org

State Efforts To ‘Reclaim’ Our Public Lands Traced To Koch-Fueled ALEC

By Public Lands Team on Mar 11, 2013 at 12:33 pm

By Jessica Goad and Tom Kenworthy via CAP and ThinkProgress

Despite the many problems that states and municipalities face today—from budget shortfalls to unemployment—seven western states have decided to embark on unconstitutional and quixotic battles attempting to force the federal government to turn millions of acres of public lands over to the states. Doing so, however, would result in the eventual exploitation for private profits of these beautiful parks, refuges, forests, and other lands because the leaders driving such efforts would prefer to see quick economic gains from resource extraction rather than prioritizing these areas’ more sustainable economic uses such as recreation.

Rather than being managed so that all Americans can enjoy them, turning our public lands over to states would result in their management on the whims of governors and state legislatures, who in the West are often quite conservative and tend to ideologically favor limited regulation and private profits. According to one state lands commissioner, these bills would be “catastrophic” to the public lands that Americans know and love.

Clashes between states and the federal government over their respective authorities have long been a regular feature of our politics, especially when it comes to issues regarding control over federal public lands in the West. More than 700 million acres of federal public lands, including national parks, national forests, and national monuments, belong to all Americans, and are tremendous economic generators—the Department of the Interior stimulated $385 billion in economic development and more than 2 million jobs in 2011 alone. At times, conflicts over ownership of the federally managed parks, forests, refuges, and other properties have grown into a regional cause in the West, as they did during the “Sagebrush Rebellion,” a political movement demanding the turnover of federal lands to the states that arose in the 1970s but eventually fizzled out in the late 1980s.

We are now seeing yet another iteration of that hardy but misguided western impulse. These state legislative efforts are nothing more than corporate-backed messaging tools that can be traced to conservative front groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, and Americans for Prosperity, as we discuss further below. The proposals run directly contrary to abundant evidence that Americans and westerners support federal management of their public lands and value the economic benefits those lands provide, especially when they are protected from mining and drilling and are used instead for recreation and other more sustainable purposes.

In the past year, legislatures in seven western states — Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Idaho — have passed, introduced, or explored legislation demanding that the federal government turn over millions of acres of federal public lands to the states. If successful, these bills could be disastrous: Rather than being managed for the benefit and use of the American public, these lands will instead be managed in whatever way each state wants to use them—which generally means maximizing private profits through mining, drilling, and other resource extraction.

These lawmakers are waging a losing battle that amounts to little more than political grandstanding to rally their extreme conservative base and feed an antigovernment narrative. Such bills contradict the majority of public opinion in these states, as well as economic realities and constitutional precedent dating back to the mid-19th century.

ALEC and Americans for Prosperity have been fanning the fire under these efforts to “reclaim” federal public lands. ALEC is a conservative corporate front group funded by fossil-fuel interests such as the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil that develops model legislation for state legislators to introduce in their legislatures, and it has endorsed many of the bills turning public lands over to the states. As the Associated Press reported, “Lawmakers in Utah and Arizona have said the legislation is endorsed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that advocates conservative ideals, and they expect it to eventually be introduced in other Western states.”

That should come as little surprise, considering that one of ALEC’s “model bills” — those that it drafts and develops to shop to various state legislators — is the “Sagebrush Rebellion Act,” which was “designed to establish a mechanism for the transfer of ownership of” non-state lands “from the federal government to the states.”

Further evidence that ALEC is the puppet master behind these performances: Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory (R), who is leading the charge for states to “take back” public lands through his “American Lands Council,” has been presenting the idea of turning federal land over to the states at ALEC conferences such as the one in Salt Lake City last summer. Additionally, Rep. Ivory has been promoting this idea to various state legislatures — he spoke, for example, with Wyoming’s Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee in October 2012.

Proponents of these bills claim that the states do not receive tax revenue from federal lands and argue that the proceeds from turning the land over to the states to then be further developed can help fund essential state services such as education. They also argue that the federal government promised to turn public lands over to the states at the establishment of their statehoods more than 100 years ago.

This issue brief provides an overview of each state’s attempt to force the turnover of public lands, and then describes why this is not only bad policy that is not in accordance with what westerners actually believe, but is also unconstitutional based on numerous Supreme Court decisions.

State efforts to ‘reclaim’ public lands

In this section, we provide an overview of each of the bills in seven western states and detail where they are in the legislative process.

Utah

The Outdoor Industry Association, the trade organization for outdoor recreation companies, notes that the outdoor economy — in part based on protected public lands — stimulates $12 billion in consumer spending and more than 122,000 jobs for Utah every year. This extraordinary economic resource will be threatened if the state succeeds in its attempt to take over public lands and instead use them for resource extraction.

Despite this, Utah has been leading the charge when it comes to state attempts to reclaim public lands. Rep. Ivory sponsored the Transfer of Public Lands Act and Related Study, a bill that passed both the state House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert (R) in March 2012. The bill established a deadline of December 31, 2014, for the federal government to turn over Utah’s nearly 20 million acres of public lands to the state, or it will sue.

Utah’s Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel noted that the case law with regard to public lands going back to the 1870s gives the bill “a high probability of being declared unconstitutional.” And the Salt Lake Tribune has called Utah’s effort “tilting at windmills.”
Despite this, the Utah state legislature has already appropriated nearly $3 million to cover expected state legal expenses and has set up the Utah Land Commission to oversee the process of returning the lands to the state.

While the bill exempts Native American lands, national parks, and military installations, it still could have a major impact on some of Utah’s most special places. One Utah publication, for example, notes that “While [Ivory] doesn’t say this will happen, it is possible that the huge coal fields now off limits because of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in southern Utah could be developed by the new state land commission.”

Arizona

The outdoor recreation economy in Arizona creates $10.6 billion in consumer spending and supports nearly 104,000 jobs in the state. Yet State Sen. Al Melvin (R) introduced S.B. 1332 in the spring of 2012 requiring Congress to turn over 25 million acres of public lands to the state by the end of 2014, or it would sue. Similar to the legislation in Utah, the Arizona bill would have exempted Indian reservations, national parks, and military lands.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), however, vetoed the bill in May 2012, surprising many observers due to her conservative background. She justified her veto by saying she was “concerned about the lack of certainty this legislation could create for individuals holding existing leases on federal lands. Given the difficult economic times, I do not believe this is the time to add to that uncertainty.”

Arizona voters also took to the polls to fight against a ballot initiative that similarly would have turned public lands over to the state. Proposition 120, supported by state Republican legislators, would have amended the state’s constitution to “declare Arizona’s sovereignty and jurisdiction over the ‘air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within the state’s boundaries.’” This measure would have included turning the Grand Canyon over to the state, but the ballot measure was defeated 68 percent to 32 percent.

Wyoming

Although the Outdoor Industry Association released data noting that the outdoor economy creates $4.5 billion in consumer spending and 50,000 direct jobs in Wyoming, State Rep. David Miller (R) introduced a bill in early February 2013 demanding state ownership of public lands. The bill — H.B. 0228, known as the Transfer of Federal Lands Study — would require the state attorney general to study “possible legal recourses available to compel the federal government to relinquish ownership and management of specified federal lands in Wyoming,” and would establish a task force focused on the land transfer. The bill passed both houses of the state legislature earlier this year and now awaits the governor’s signature.

Rep. Miller is also the CEO of a uranium mining company and told WyoFile, a local news outlet, that he got the idea for his bill in Wyoming from Utah Rep. Ivory’s presentation at last summer’s ALEC conference in Salt Lake City.

Notably, however, the Wyoming attorney general’s office wrote an opinion stating that Utah’s federal land transfer laws relied on “a repeatedly rejected reading of the United States Constitution and a strained interpretation of Utah’s statehood act.”

New Mexico

The state of New Mexico sees $6.1 billion in consumer spending stimulated by the outdoor recreation industry, as well as more than 68,000 jobs every year. Nevertheless, New Mexico State Rep. Yvette Herrell (R) and State Sen. Richard Martinez (D) introduced the Transfer of Public Land Act in early 2013, calling on the federal government to turn 23 million acres of New Mexico’s public lands over to the state by the end of 2015. It also would create a public lands transfer task force to study the process of taking ownership of these federal lands.

Jumping into this fray is the Koch-backed conservative group Americans for Prosperity, which called the bill “an exciting change” and urged its members to call the state legislature to express support. On the other hand, the state’s lands commissioner stated that the bill would be “catastrophic,” and noted that a fiscal impact analysis shows that if public lands were transferred to the state, the office would “need 2,000 more employees and an additional $218 million to administer the land at the same level as the federal government.”

The bill is currently in the legislative process, and it is unclear what New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s (R) position is on it.

Colorado

Colorado is a hotspot for the outdoor recreation economy, which stimulates $13.2 billion in consumer spending and nearly 125,000 direct jobs to the state. But a handful of members in the Colorado state legislature are attempting to revive a failed attempt of last year’s legislative session by introducing a bill — known as S.B. 13-142 — which would require the federal government to turn over all “agricultural lands” to the state. The law’s broad definition of agricultural lands certainly includes the more than 14 million acres of national forests in the state and likely includes its Bureau of Land Management lands.

State Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R) and State Sen. Scott Renfroe (R) introduced the bill in late January 2013, requiring the federal government to turn these lands over to the state by December 31, 2014. The bill, however, failed in committee in early February.
A similar bill failed in last year’s legislative session after much criticism from public and statewide opinion leaders. As a Denver Post columnist put it at the time, “We are all hoping this goes away very quickly.”

Nevada

Nevada sees $14.9 billion created by the outdoor recreation industry every year, as well as 148,000 direct jobs. And yet Nevada Assemblyman John Ellison (R) and State Sen. Pete Goicoechea (R) are drafting a bill for the 2013 legislative session that would create a committee “to help broker the transfer of federal land to the state,” according to the Elko Daily Free Press. Legislation is still being drafted as of late February.

Specifically modeled after the Utah bill, the Nevada bill would create a Nevada Land Management Implementation Committee appointed by county commissioners, which would conduct a study anticipating the effects that a land transfer would have on the state “in contemplation of Congress turning over the management and control of those public lands to the State of Nevada on or before June 30, 2015.”

Idaho

The outdoor recreation economy creates $6.3 billion in consumer spending in Idaho per year, as well as 77,000 direct jobs. While the Idaho legislature has not yet officially considered a bill to turn some or all of the state’s 33 million acres of public lands over to the state, discussions and preparations to do so are in the works. State Rep. Lawerence Denney (R), chairman of the state’s Resources and Conservation Committee, has expressed interest in introducing such a bill. Utah Rep. Ivory addressed a joint meeting of the state’s House Resources and Conservation Committee and Senate Resources and Environment Committee in late January 2013, lauding the Utah bill and its merits.

The idea of selling off public lands has not, however, seen political success in Idaho. The Associated Press reports that in the state’s 2006 gubernatorial race, now-Gov. Butch Otter (R) was forced to withdraw his support for federal legislation that would sell off public lands in the West to offset costs of Hurricane Katrina — only after “getting bruised by his political challengers and voters irritated by the possibility of losing some of Idaho’s prized backcountry.”

State efforts are seriously misguided

This section outlines the three main reasons why state attempts to “take back” public lands are misguided: People in these states do not believe there is a problem; the economic arguments don’t pan out; and the efforts are unconstitutional.

People in these states don’t think there is a problem

Central to the intent behind and promotion of these bills is the notion that people living in these seven states are upset about the job that the federal government is doing when it comes to managing public lands, and that there is too much public land preventing resource development. But conservative ideologues are wrong in this regard, which is indicated in the data below.

A recent poll from Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project, for example, asked western voters whether they think having “too much public land” is a problem. Here are the answers—either that it is a “serious” problem or that it isn’t a problem—by state:

While this poll did not cover Idaho and Nevada, recent polls in those states show similar sentiments. A poll in Idaho, for instance, determined that 73 percent of Idahoans agree that “One of the things our federal government does well is protect and preserve our national heritage through the management of forests, national parks and other public lands.” And in Nevada, two-thirds of small-business owners believe that allowing private companies to develop public lands “would limit the public’s enjoyment of them.”

Despite what conservatives want to think, the western public understands that there is a role for the federal government in managing public lands and doesn’t want to see the land turned over to states or private interests.

Economic arguments don’t pan out

Another key argument that proponents of such bills make is that the federal government is “locking up” public lands that could be used for economic development such as mining and drilling. To make this argument more appealing, some of the bills transfer a portion of the funds from selling or developing lands to state public education funds and send the rest to relieve the national debt. As Utah Rep. Ivory put it, “If we unleash those resources in a responsible, sustainable manner, that’s a matter of national employment. That’s a matter of national economic GDP growth; that’s a matter of national deficit and debt reduction.”

But conservatives miss two key points in making these economic arguments. First, public lands already provide an extraordinary economic impact, both from traditional resource development currently allowed on the lands such as mining, drilling, and timber, and from outdoor recreation on protected lands. Second, they fail to note that adequately managing millions more acres of land will be very difficult for states facing budget constraints.

Public lands provide tremendous economic impacts. The Department of the Interior—the agency that manages most public lands — stimulated $385 billion in economic development and more than 2 million jobs in 2011 alone. This number includes the extraction of oil, gas, coal, and other minerals from public lands, in addition to timber, grazing, and recreation. Recreation-related activities alone created 403,000 jobs and nearly $49 billion in economic activity across the country. The U.S. Forest Service, which manages national forests, also has major economic impacts — visitor spending on recreation in and near national forests, for example, added $13 billion to gross domestic product and sustained 200,000 jobs across the country in fiscal year 2011.

The fact that public lands create jobs is echoed in public sentiment. In six western states, for example, 79 percent of voters believe that public lands support the economy, while only 15 percent believe they “take land off the tax rolls, cost government to maintain them, and prevent opportunities for logging and oil and gas production that could provide jobs.”

Regarding the second point about states likely not being prepared for the burden of managing an influx of public lands, Jodi Peterson of High Country News, a publication based in Paonia, Colorado, says it best:

If that transfer ever does occur, the old adage “Be careful what you wish for” might apply. Cash-strapped states would have trouble covering even minimal management of former federal land … [and] there aren’t ready buyers for these millions of acres.

The attempts are unconstitutional

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that these attempts are unconstitutional, according to case law dating back to the 1800s, and therefore will only serve to waste state taxpayers’ money. Each of the state attempts to force Congress to turn over public lands references the state’s enabling act—the language that made it a state to begin with. Proponents say the federal government has not kept its promise to give the public lands back to the states.

But in reality this is just not true. Each of these enabling acts that the states agreed to in order to become members of the union renounced their claims to federal public lands. Here are the relevant sections of each state constitution or enabling act:

  • Utah: “That the people inhabiting said proposed State do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof”
  • Arizona: “That the people inhabiting said proposed State do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated and ungranted public lands lying within the boundaries thereof and to all lands lying within said boundaries”
  • Wyoming: “The people inhabiting this state do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof”
  • New Mexico: “That the people inhabiting said proposed state do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated and ungranted public lands lying within the boundaries thereof”
  • Colorado: “That the people inhabiting said Territory do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said Territory”
  • Nevada: “That the people inhabiting said territory do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States”
  • Idaho: “And the people of the state of Idaho do agree and declare that we forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof”

In even further proof that these are attempts are unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken many times on this issue. Ironically, the case law in this regard was discussed by Utah’s own Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel in its opinion on the Utah bill, stating:

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that “[w]ith respect to the public domain, the Constitution vests in Congress the power of disposition and of making all needful rules and regulations. That power is subject to no limitations. Congress has the absolute right to prescribe the times, the conditions, and the mode of transferring this property, or any part of it, and to designate the persons to whom the transfer shall be made. No State legislation can interfere with this right or embarrass its exercise; and to prevent the possibility of any attempted interference with it, a provision has been usually inserted in the compacts by which new States have been admitted to the Union, that such interference with the primary disposal of the soil of the United States shall never be made.” Gibson v. Chouteau, 80 U.S. 92 (1872).

Additionally, a Congressional Research Service report in 2007 on the history of federal land management and the Constitution noted that:

The U.S. Constitution addresses the relationship of the federal government to lands. Article IV, § 3, Clause 2—the Property Clause—gives Congress authority over federal property generally, and the Supreme Court has described Congress’s power to legislate under this Clause as “without limitation.” The equal footing doctrine (based on language within Article IV, § 3, Clause 1), and found in state enabling acts, provides new states with equality to the original states in terms of constitutional rights, but has not been used successfully to force the divestment of federal lands. The policy question of whether to acquire more, or to dispose of any or all, federal lands is left to Congress to decide.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that those living in these seven states do not fundamentally agree with the attempts to “take back” public lands, that the economic arguments for it are incomplete, and that the efforts are unconstitutional, conservatives in these state legislatures across the West have still introduced bills demanding the federal government turn federal public lands over to the states. Efforts in Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Idaho are misguided and merely serve to fan the fire of extreme and fruitless rhetoric at the taxpayers’ expense.

Jessica Goad is Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow at the Center. This article was reprinted from CAP with permission.

Endnotes and citations are available in the PDF version of this issue brief.


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