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Wed, April 24

Prop 120 challenges feds over public lands

Sylvia Allen

Sylvia Allen

The Arizona Legislature is challenging the authority of the U.S. government over public land, but opposition groups are calling Proposition 120 an unconstitutional land grab.

The Legislature placed Proposition 120 on the ballot. If approved, it would amend the state constitution and take control of all federal government land that is not part of an Indian reservation, a military base or was purchased directly from the state of Arizona with the consent of the Legislature. According to the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, which opposes the proposition, there are approximately 25 million acres of land under federal control in Arizona.

Sen. Sylvia Allen of Snowflake, a supporter of the proposition, was not available for comment, but did submit a statement of support for the Arizona Secretary of State's publicity pamphlet.

In her statement, Allen said that the federal government is meddling in the state's economy with regulations that prevent Arizona from using its natural resources to their full potential and prevent the creation of jobs, reducing the amount of money the state has to fund education and other programs. She also claims that the federal government has mismanaged federal forestland in the state.

"Arizona is a sovereign state, and we have a right to control the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife, and other natural resources within our boundaries," she states.

The author of the resolution that became Prop 120, Rep. Chester Crandell, was not available for comment.

In his statement of support submitted to the Secretary of State's Office, Crandell said "(T)his proposition will provide Arizona with the same authority over its own natural resources enjoyed by other states. It will grant the state the ability to more effectively protect and harness the economic potential stored in the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within the state."

Supporters of the proposition point to the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that all powers not reserved for the federal government by the Constitution belong to the states or the American people unless the Constitution specifically prohibits states from having that power. According to Prop 120 supporters, those include regulatory powers over land, air and water within state boundaries.

They also claim that the federal government reneged on its promise when Arizona became a state in 1912 to sell off federal land within the state's boundaries and that it never paid the state for land that several national parks and monuments sit on. Supporters say that because the federal government failed to give the land back to the state, Arizona and several other western states do not have the same control over land within their boundaries that states east of the Mississippi River do.

Supporters of the proposition include the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation and the Arizona Cattlemen's Association.

Opponents of the proposition claim that the Legislature wants to grab control of the land from the federal government and sell it. They also say that the proposition is a violation of the U.S. Constitution and Arizona's statehood agreement with the federal government.

According to Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy, opponents are referring to the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution. The clause states that federal law trumps state laws in nearly every case.

"Prop 120 is almost certainly unconstitutional. States do not have the right unilaterally to declare that federal law does not apply to them. The Constitution provides that federal law is 'the supreme law of the land ... anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding,'" Paul Bender, a professor at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of law, wrote in an email to the Miner.

"The state is not equipped to take care of these lands," said Grand Canyon Trust member Sandy Bahr. "We think it's a bad idea, especially with the track record that the Legislature has with state parks."

Bahr pointed to the budget cuts and fund sweeps the Legislature started in 2008 that resulted in the deference of maintenance, shortened visiting hours and the closure of several state parks.

Other opponents, such as the Sky Island Alliance Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, say that none of Arizona's statehood documents detail an agreement where the federal government would turn over control of the land it owns in the state.

Opponents, such as the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, also claim that if the state took over control of the land, it could have a negative effect on the state's economy by eliminating thousands of federal jobs and cutting off billions of dollars in federal funds used to manage the land.

The Public Land Foundation also pointed out that the takeover would affect counties. Arizona counties get millions of dollars from the federal government each year in lieu of property taxes on federal land.

The Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, another opponent, said in its statement to the secretary of state's office that the land grab would have a negative effect not only on the environment, but also on the health of some Arizona residents. Several federal regulations, such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, are designed to protect people from the health effects of pollution by limiting the amount of pollutants businesses can release into the air or water.

Opponents say that if Prop 120 is approved the Legislature could attempt to nullify federal environmental regulations by saying that only it has the authority to control what happens to the land, water, air and other resources in the state's boundaries.

Opponents include: the Wilderness Society, the Tucson Audubon Society, Friends of the Sonoran Desert National Monument, the Valley Forward Association, North Country Conservancy of Cave Creek, Arizona League of Conservation Voters Committee for the Environment and the Sonoran Institute.

"This is a part of our national legacy," Bahr said.

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