States’ Rights? Good. Private Property Rights? Even Better.

Never before in American history have the tensions between States and the federal government been so high. The recent healthcare battle has drawn attention to a massive government takeover of the privacy of citizens, but Utah Governor Gary Herbert has shined the bright light on another federal takeover: land rights. Recently, the federal government has been involved in a campaign to bring thousands of acres of land under federal jurisdiction, under the guise that they are “national monuments”. Advocacy groups are trying to spread the message that when the federal government seizes land, the resources and energy potential of that land are rendered useless since nobody can legally develop it. On March 29, Governor Herbert decided he had had enough.

The Governor signed a piece of legislation which would take the eminent domain laws and turn them against the Feds. In a basic sense, the state of Utah will seize the lands back from the federal government and make them property of the State – a task which will cost taxpayer dollars in legal fees. Opponents of the bill argue that the fight is unnecessary and cost-prohibitive. They also argue that the state doesn’t have a snowball’s chance; for decades, courts have always sided with the Feds on this issue. But advocates of states’ rights see it differently. Currently, nearly 60% of Utah land is owned by the federal government. That means 2/3 of Utah is off-limits to the citizens of Utah. The Governor claims that by bringing that land back under state control, it can be developed and used for private enterprise or energy sources, and thus generate more tax revenue to help fund Utah public schools.

And Utah isn’t the only state exercising its rights; Arizona, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming have all been encouraged by Utah state legislators to enact similar laws since federal land ownership is most prominent in Western America. While the Governor has the right idea, the execution is a bit flawed. The federal government has no right to grab land on a whim, but nor should that land be transferred to another government entity. Land rights belong to private citizens, where it can be utilized and developed to meet the needs of the market – particularly in the West, where natural resources and energy sources are abundant. Private land development means economic stimulation and jobs – and that’s something everyone can agree on.

To see just how much land the federal government owns in the American West, click here.