OIA wants Oregon to emulate Utah, whose legislature in its 2009 session enacted a law that supposedly gives the state the power to use eminent domain to seize land held by the federal government.
“In the upcoming session of the Oregon legislature, Oregonians In Action will work with the Oregon legislature to pass similar legislation in Oregon,” the group said in a news release today. “This legislation would provide the biggest economic boost for rural Oregon communities in decades.”
It definitely would give a big boost to the bottom lines of corporations if they could get their hands on the federal lands in the West. The federal government owns 55% of the land in Oregon and 60% of the land in Utah. In Oregon, much of the federal land is rich in timber; in Utah the prize is minerals.
Lamenting that timber and other resources that used to form the backbone of rural economies “are now locked away by federal laws and regulations that have gone too far,” OIA calls for Oregon to enact a law similar to Utah’s House Bill 143, under which “Utah state agencies are given the authority to condemn federal property. Ownership of that property would be transferred from the federal government to the state government. Once acquired, the state would manage the property for the best interests of Utah residents. That may mean that the land is retained in state ownership, or it may mean that Utah would sell the property to private citizens.”
That last bit about selling the land off to private citizens is particularly intriguing. It’s not hard to imagine politically well-connected timber, mining, ranching and other interests working out some pretty sweet deals for themselves.
“In either event,” the OIA news release continues, “land that is currently mismanaged and neglected by the federal government would be transferred to either state government or private citizens, who would make use of the land to create jobs, revitalize rural communities, boost the economy, and balance state and local budgets. What a concept.”
“There is no reason why the Oregon legislature cannot follow Utah’s lead,” the OIA says. But I can think of a couple of good reasons without even trying.
In the first place, the constitutionality of the Utah measure is extremely doubtful. Even the state’s attorney general doubts it. Its real purpose, as described by columnist Lee Benson in the Desert News, is “to spark a lawsuit that will get the U.S. Supreme Court to rule more clearly … on the issue of the sovereign land rights of states. Already, $3 million has been set aside to pay the lawyers.”
In the second place, Oregon ain’t Utah … thank God.