The chances of such a move by the states being constitutional are nil, critics say. But the fact that the RNC has chosen to make this fringe effort the GOP line is one more example of why "please proceed" ought to be one of the Democrats' leading messages for at least the next couple of election cycles. Extremists are running things at Republican HQ, and nearly every time they open their mouths they prove it. Like Rush Limbaugh, they seem to be working under a mandate to come up every few months with something even crazier than before.
For those who have forgotten, here's the timeline leading up to this project: First, steal the land from the indigenous peoples, give away huge chunks to the railroads and small bits to settlers, let people mine it, drill it and graze it for pennies, cut timber from it, build dams on it for cheap or free irrigation water and then demand MORE! MORE! MORE! while whining that the feds are stingy bastards. And communists.
Please read more on this story below the fold.
To be fair, the idea of the states taking over protected federal lands isn't new, although the method proposed for acquiring them is slightly more aggressive than it was in the 1970s when the so-called "Sagebrush Rebellion" was launched. This was aided by the likes of advocacy groups such as the right-wing Mountain States Legal Foundation, co-founded and initially helmed by James G. Watt, later to be the notoriously anti-environmental worst Secretary of Interior of the 20th Century. And a crook, to boot.
Bigoted mouthiness brought Watt down, but the Sagebrush Rebellion succeeded in some ways, then petered out in the late '80s, although efforts were made to revive it via the Orwellian-named Wise Use Movement.
The newest version of this attempted rip-off, as Jessica Goad, Outreach Manager for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress co-wrote with Senior Fellow Tom Kenworthy last year, is, at least in part, a product of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch Industries'-founded and -funded Americans for Prosperity. As we've learned time and again, ALEC writes model right-wing legislation that it tries to get enacted in as many states as it can. Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Idaho have all introduced or, in Utah's case, passed, legislation demanding federal transfer of lands:
In March 2012, for example, Governor Gary Herbert of Utah (R) signed a bill demanding that the U.S. Congress turn federal public lands over to the state by 2015, or the state will sue (legislators have appropriated $3 million of taxpayer money to fight this legal battle). [...]Given the conservative leanings to be found in most of these states, the RNC endorsement of the scheme might seem likely to gain wide support. In fact, however, as a year-old study shows, most citizens in those seven states—71 percent, to be specific—reject the idea of selling off public lands.
Many legal scholars believe state land seizure movements are constitutionally indefensible, because when states entered the Union, the federal government assumed the rights over federal public lands. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution “gives Congress authority over federal property generally, and the Supreme Court has described Congress’s power to legislate under this Clause as ‘without limitation.’” And, Utah’s own Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, said that Utah’s legislation had “a high probability of being declared unconstitutional.”
John Leshy, a legal scholar who was the Solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior under President Clinton, noted that “Legally, it’s a ridiculous claim. It would be thrown out in federal court in five seconds … [and] is all just about cranky, symbolic politics.”
If they are informed what the impact would be of turning these lands over to the states—which might maintain nominal ownership while letting the developers run wild or might choose to actually sell the land and resources outright—it seems unlikely those citizens would change their minds. But, the study also showed, only 34 percent of those surveyed knew for certain that public lands are already being drilled for oil and gas and 56 percent said environmentally sensitive lands should be permanently protected.
This division presents a messaging challenge for foes of the unfettered development that these descendants of the Sagebrush Rebels favor. Not because their current tactic has any chance of fruition but because these guys are relentless and always looking—like forced-birthers and right-to-workers—for some fresh means to get what they want to enhance private gain at the expense of common good.