By Jessica Goad
In a surprise move last night, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) vetoed a bill demanding that the federal government turn over up to 25 million acres of public lands to the state by 2014 or face a lawsuit. In a statement, Brewer said that 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.”
The overwhelming legal expert opinion is that this type of bill is unconstitutional — which is how the courts have ruled over many decades. The Salt Lake Tribune called a similar effort in Utah “tilting at windmills.”
This is a blow to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate front group that designs “model” legislation and is funded by the likes of Koch Industries, BP, Exxon Mobil, and Shell. ALEC endorsed this particular legislation, 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.
Turning over public lands could eventually lead to their privatization, opening them up to mining, drilling and other industrial activity.
A similar bill demanding federal lands be turned over to the state was signed into law by Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R) last month. The state has demanded 30 million acres of public lands by 2015 or it will sue. And, the Utah legislature has already authorized the state’s attorney general to spend $3 million on the anticipated legal battle.
Brewer’s veto of this bill is also a major setback to those aiming to start a new “sagebrush rebellion” in the West, and may bring an end to other lawmakers’ dreams of privatizing public lands. As Arizona state senator Al Melvin, the primary sponsor of the bill, said:
What we envision is all of the Western states going before the Supreme Court to force this issue.
Jessica Goad is Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress.