By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
In the last few months, Republican presidential candidates from Mitt Romney to Rick Santorum have shown their ignorance about the value of public lands. And recently a handful of states have joined the fray, with state legislators introducing bills that demand Congress turn over millions of acres of public lands to the states or face a lawsuit. Utah has taken this idea the furthest, where two weeks ago Governor Gary Herbert (R) signed a bill into law demanding that Congress give 30 million acres of federal land located in Utah to the state by 2015 or it will sue.
But buried under the headlines is the fact these bills are being quietly drafted and promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing corporate front group that provides draft legislation to state lawmakers and is funded by some of America’s biggest corporations including Koch Industries, BP, Exxon Mobil, and Shell.
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.
And in January, Utah Pulse noted that:
Lawmakers in four western land states will be running similar bills in their legislative sessions this year – Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Idaho. Ivory’s bill will be unique to Utah, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, has turned his bill into model legislation that other western land states can use. While ALEC is a conservative legislative/business group, Ivory says he hopes to get Utah Democrats onboard with this new effort.
Bills similar to the one passed in Utah have been introduced in Arizona and Colorado, while legislators in Montana, Idaho, and New Mexico are said to be considering introducing legislation next year. Many legal experts—including Utah’s own Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel—have stated that such a lawsuit would not pass constitutional review. Additionally, the efforts and lawsuits could cost the state millions of taxpayer dollars. The Utah legislature authorized the attorney general to spend $3 million on the anticipated legal fight.
ALEC’s attempts are not new, but are getting more traction this year. Documents posted on alecexposed.org, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, show that as far back as 1995 ALEC had drafted the “Sagebrush Rebellion Act,” which was “designed to establish a mechanism for the transfer of ownership of unappropriated lands from the federal government to the states.”
ALEC’s other attacks on the public lands and wildlife that belong to all of us include a draft state resolution that would undermine the president’s ability to use the Antiquities Act to designate new national monuments, urging Congress to roll back the Endangered Species Act, and a resolution to prevent federal oversight of hydraulic fracturing.
As State Representative Ken Ivory (R), the sponsor of the Utah bill stated, “this is not your father’s sagebrush rebellion.”