Why Utah’s Federal Lands Fight Matters in Oklahoma [and all points East] - Part 5 of 5

This is the fifth in five-part series about federal lands by Trent England of the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs - www.OCPAThink.org

Legislation adopted in Utah calls on the federal government to transfer certain of these lands to the state. It set a deadline of December 31, 2014.

Just 1.6% of the land that comprises Oklahoma is owned by the federal government. In Utah, where state officials are leading an effort to reduce federal land ownership, that number is 66.5%. Yet there are good reasons why Oklahomans and all Americans should support Utah’s legal and political challenge to Washington, D.C.’s power. 


Efficiency. Government, at any level, is a kind of monopoly and therefore prone to inefficiency. Yet the federal government, so massive and so distant, is especially unlikely to manage western lands well. Consider that the Bureau of Land Management offers some grazing rights below market value and the Forest Service losing money on timber sales. State and local authorities are more likely to be held accountable for such boondoggles. In fact, states already do a fine job managing both resource and parklands, as described in part four.

Diversity. Land is one of two special categories in the law of property. The other is artwork. Items in these categories are inherently distinct: you cannot simply substitute one parcel of land or one painting for another. From too great a distance, however, everything blends together. Faraway managers are forced to quantify the qualitative, to reduce what may be irreducible. Federal land managers cannot see the trees for the forest, let alone the families and local communities living alongside them.

The economy. The brightest spot in the slow climb out of the Great Recession has been the oil and gas industry (even the Progressive Policy Institute branded the industry “Investment Heroes”). Technological leaps have made individual wells far more productive. This was a boon for oil producers and has now become a boon for American consumers (and is clobbering authoritarian regimes like Venezuela and Russia). It is also great for the environment, and not just because of natural gas. As each well becomes more efficient, fewer well platforms are needed to produce the same amount of energy. While some environmentalists celebrate these advances, D.C.’s green lobbying machines continue working to deny access to federal lands, even lands set aside specifically for resource production.

Constitutional federalism and self-government. Today, members of Congress from New York City have more say over two-thirds of the land in Utah than that state’s own elected representatives. The constitutional structure of federalism was created to prevent exactly that. Most power is left with the states, and enumerated federal powers relate to true national interests like self preservation and interstate and international trade. The federal government was never intended to be a land manager, nor to use land ownership to trump constitutional limits. Doing so treats western states less like coequal states and more like colonies. It disrespects the people within those states and their institutions. And it throws the constitutional system out of balance for all Americans.

Congress is not going to meet Utah’s deadline, but this is hardly the end of the story. Utah’s elected leaders plan to pursue their case both in courts of law and in the more important court of public opinion. Americans everywhere, including here in Oklahoma, have a stake in restoring the balance of constitutional federalism and getting Washington, D.C., out of the land management business.

To follow Utah’s efforts or to find out what you can do, visit the American Lands Council and the Sutherland Institute’s Center for Self-Government in the West.

- See more at: http://www.ocpathink.org/articles/2867

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