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State sovereignty

Folks actually trying to make a living west of the Rockies — who quickly discover you don’t just wait for fruit to fall off the trees, out here — were none too pleased when President Bill Clinton designated 1.9 million acres of southern Utah as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, limiting oil and other resource development.

Then, last year, Utah state Rep. Chris Herrod watched as the new Obama administration canceled 77 leases to oil and gas companies that had been approved by President George W. Bush — costing America needed energy and Utah needed jobs. Finally, Rep. Herrod saw a leaked administration memo that purported to list 14 sites as proposed new “national monuments” — two of them in Utah.

More lands ruled off limits to the Americans who supposedly own them?

So in March, Rep. Herrod won enactment of a new law urging Utah authorities to explore seizing federally controlled Utah land through eminent domain.

A majority of the land in Utah, as in Nevada, is controlled and managed by the federal government. Rep. Herrod’s measure treats the federal government like any other property owner in the state. It allows Washington to keep the rights and title to the land but not ultimate jurisdiction over it.

Other Western states are also looking for ways to challenge a level of federal control that makes a mockery of their supposed “sovereignty.” Wyoming lawmakers recently approved a resolution that asserts sovereignty from Washington under the 10th Amendment. An almost identical resolution was debated but defeated in Nevada last year. Montana lawmakers voted on — but turned down — a bill to assert the state’s right to manage its own wolf population.

“It’s a natural outflow of the frustration,” says Rep. Herrod, a Republican. “We kind of feel like we’re serfs. We have this land and we have to beg Washington to see if we can use it.” And as long as that’s the case, Rep. Herrod and his allies deserve support in their effort to either privatize these lands or have states assert more control over the property within their own borders.

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