When it comes to the environment, we don't often get a lot of good news in Arizona. But in honor of Earth Day, here's one victory to celebrate: Governor Doug Ducey vetoed two important "land-grab" bills.
Earlier this month, the Arizona Legislature gleefully passed a series of bills that demanded the federal government transfer the title to all lands it owns in Arizona to the state. (In Arizona, the federal government owns 42.2 percent of land.)
The purpose of these bills was ostensibly to raise money for state institutions and programs, which would be done by selling the land or issuing grazing leases. Critics, who dubbed these efforts "the land-grab bills," say there are other ways to fund our schools, and feel that the whole point of the bills was to appease the private sector and cattlemen. They also worry about the future management of the land, and about whether citizens would lose access to public lands.
"Public lands belong to all Americans. They don't belong to the state of Arizona," explains Sandy Bahr, chapter director of the Arizona Sierra Club. "The people of Arizona have been very clear about not wanting the state to take control of federal lands."
She's right, this year wasn't the first time the Legislature has attempted to take over federal land. In 2012, former Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill, and the Arizona populace rejected the measure on a ballot.
Ducey had three slightly different "land-grab" bills on his desk, and he vetoed two of them. The first, HB 2176, required the State Land Commissioner to demand the federal government give up the title to all public lands in Arizona. It also required the state Attorney General take legal action if the transfer didn't occur by January 1, 2022.
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And the second, HB 2318, would have added Arizona to an interstate compact designed to help facilitate the transfer of public lands to the state. The compact is a 2014 Utah initiative that would have become effective after a second state signed on.
Ducey did sign the third bill, HB 2658, into law, but this one has less teeth than the other two. All it does is establish the "Transfer of Federal Lands Study Committee," to examine the process of transferring, managing, and disposing of federal lands within Arizona.
According to the law, the committee will:
- Conduct hearings to collect, evaluate and analyze information relating to federal lands in this state to identify significant concerns, risks, solutions and goals associated with these lands relating to the following: environmental quality; economic productivity and sustainability; public health, safety and welfare; consistency with state and local objectives; ownership and jurisdictional responsibilities; other aspects considered appropriate by the transfer of federal lands study committee.
- Consult with experts in the fields and industries associated with or related to public lands.
- Survey the county board of supervisors of counties that contain at least 15 percent land area under the management of federal agencies.
- Develop management priorities for public lands received from the federal government for this state and local jurisdictions.
- Identify measures that will ensure that public lands in this state are managed responsibly and prudently for present and future generations.
- Develop processes for this state to receive title to public lands from the federal government and to transfer title to the public lands received from the federal government.
- Investigate lawful mechanisms, including actions implemented in other states, that may aid in achieving the goals identified pursuant to paragraph 1 of this subsection.
- Submit a report regarding the committee's activities, findings, and recommendations on or before December 31, 2019 to the governor, the president of the senate and the speaker of the house of representatives and provide a copy of this report to the secretary of state.
Two out of three isn't bad. Happy Earth Day.
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