Earlier this week, the House Natural Resources Committee approved Rep. Mark Amodei’s H.R. 761, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013, which requires federal agencies to expedite mining permits on federal land, setting a deadline of 30 months instead of the customary 10 years or more.
During debate on the bill a Utah congressman pointed out the bill would not be necessary if the states in the West controlled their public lands instead of far off federal agencies.
Meanwhile, in Carson City, Elko Republican Assemblyman John Ellison’s Assembly Bill 227 would create a task force to do just that, which is the topic of this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.
Since the mid-1990s Nevada has been trying to take control of the 85 percent of the state controlled by the federal government.
In 1956 the voters of Nevada amended the state Constitution to allow taxation of federal lands, should the Congress ever consent. In 1996 the voters again amended the Constitution to remove the so-called Disclaimer Clause that gave dominion over the land to the feds.
And then … nothing. To this day, the state Constitution contains a note saying these amendments are to take effect when Congress or the courts act. Neither has.
AB227 would establish a task force to prepare for taking over federal lands by June 30, 2015. The task force would identify which public lands should be transferred and propose a plan for the administration, management, use, sale or lease of those lands. It also would perform an economic analysis of the potential costs and revenues of such transfers. Ellison colorfully describes the federal government’s dominion over the vast majority of state land for 150 years as “feudalism.”
The bill passed out of the Assembly with all 15 Republicans voting “aye,” but with 18 of the 26 Democrats voting “nay.”
AB227 contains a resolution that begins: “WHEREAS, Unlike the eastern states that received dominion over their lands upon joining the Union, the western states have been placed in an inferior position as a result of the Federal Government withholding a significant portion of land from those states as a condition of admission to the Union …”
There is a bit of an historic flaw in that statement. Actually, some Western states have successfully petitioned to acquire for themselves tracts of federal land, arguing:
“It is of pressing moment that the public lands should become the property of their citizens, with the least delay compatible with the national interest. …
“If these lands are to be withheld from sale, which is the effect of the present system, in vain may the People of these States expect the advantages of well settled neighborhoods, so essential to the education of youth, and to the pleasures of social intercourse, and the advantages of religious instruction. Those States will, for many generations, without some change, be retarded in endeavors to increase their comfort and wealth …
“When these States stipulated not to tax the lands of the United States until they were sold, they rested upon the implied engagement of Congress to cause them to be sold, within a reasonable time. No just equivalent has been given those States for a surrender of an attribute of sovereignty so important to their welfare, and to an equal standing with the original States.”
Those “Western” states, as they were called at the time, were Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida. The year was 1828. The argument became known as the Equal Footing Doctrine.
The petition apparently was successful. Today various federal agencies control the use of roughly half the 11 westernmost states in the lower 48 and Alaska, while only 4 percent of the rest of the states is under federal dominion.