Utah Authorizes Use of Eminent Domain to Seize Federal Land

On Saturday, March 27, 2010, Utah governor Gary Herbert signed into law a pair of bills authorizing the use of eminent domain to seize some of the federal government’s most valuable land in the state.

In Utah, where the U.S. government owns more than 60% of the land, such a move could see the state realize millions of dollars if it is successful.

Supporters are hopeful that passage of the bills will trigger a flood of similar legislation throughout the West, an area where lawmakers claim that federal land ownership hinders economic development and restricts states’ abilities to generate tax revenue to adequately fund public schools. Attorneys for the state’s legislators admit that another goal of the legislation is to spark a U.S. Supreme Court battle that they admit has little chance of success.

Utah plans to target three areas, including the Kaiparowits plateau in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is home to large coal reserves. The state could also invoke eminent domain on parcels of land where Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last year scrapped 77 oil and gas leases around national parks and wild areas.