When Winning Means Losing: Why a State Takeover of Public Lands May Leave States Without the Minerals They Covet
Wallace Stegner Center For Land, Resources, and the Environment, Paper No. 2015-02
15 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2015 Last revised: 17 Feb 2016
Date Written: December 9, 2015
This White Paper, the third in a series assessing state efforts to take over federal public lands, addresses state claims to the minerals underlying those lands. Using Utah as an example, we argue here that even if states overcome extremely long odds to convince a court that the federal government is obligated to dispose of more public land, and that such a disposal obligation necessitates giving the public domain to the states, well established legal principles would prevent grants of most mineral lands to the states. Moreover, any mineral rights that states did obtain would be realized only after years of costly site-specific litigation — litigation above and beyond that required to test the validity of their efforts to compel disposal. Mineral title is important because Utah’s best, and perhaps only, hope of covering management costs involves mineral development. Indeed, during 2013, federal mineral leasing (primarily oil, natural gas, and coal) produced 93-percent of all revenue derived from the targeted public lands. Taking on the management of millions of acres of new land without simultaneously securing a source of funding to fulfill those obligations would be contrary to the state’s best interests.
Keywords: Transfer of Public Lands Act, TPLA, Utah, Public Lands
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