Land use bills could hold key to restoring state powers

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 96.7 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not those of St. George News.

OPINION – Land use issues have long been a flashpoint for conflict in the American West. Now Utah legislators are advancing several key pieces of legislation calling upon Washington D.C. to return public lands to state control as promised in the enabling act that admitted Utah into the Union.

Legislators say that the language of the 1896 act includes a promise that the federal government would return control of federally controlled lands “in a timely manner.” More than a century later, that promise has yet to be fulfilled. Following a federal court decision over similar promises about lands in Hawaii, Utah and several other Western states are calling upon the federal government to honor its agreements.

With nearly 64 percent of Utah’s land under federal control, millions of acres of land would revert to state control and could be preserved, sold or leased according to a newly formed Utah Land Commission. Proponents point to the tax revenues that could be generated for education and the value of keeping land use decisions with the people who actually live within those lands.

But vigorous resistance is already surfacing among environmental groups who fear that state control would be an unmitigated disaster. Federal land managers aren’t likely to give up power over that much land without a protracted legal fight.

A showdown is in the making that calls into question not just land issues, but the very nature of the relationship between states and our national government.

To better understand why the states and national government have reached such an impasse, we must first understand the true nature of their relationship.

When the Revolutionary War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, King George didn’t acknowledge the United States as a collective. He mentioned each state individually because each state was a sovereign, autonomous republic.

Section II of the Articles of Confederation made this guarantee: “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.”

During the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, the states created a limited central government to oversee specific areas of mutual concern such as foreign policy, national defense and interstate commerce. As the recipient of those specific delegated powers, the federal government was intended to be a servant to the states and not their master.

The word “delegated” refers to powers that are passed down a chain-of-command from a superior principal authority to a subordinate agent. This is done so the subordinate may act with proxy power to carry out necessary duties. This delegated authority does not and cannot supersede or deny the sovereignty of the delegating body.

This is the essence of federalism; where the states remain sovereign and supreme and the federal government’s role is limited and subservient.

But following the War Between the States, the concept of federalism was turned on its head in favor of a consolidated national government. Since that time, the states have been increasingly relegated to mere administrative units of an all-powerful central government that regards itself as the supreme authority in all matters.

Because winners write the history books, many generations of Americans have been educated to view government through the lens of national supremacy. Most of them have never considered the vital difference between a federal and national government, but the historical evidence is very clear as to which form was the original intent of the founding generation.

Those who wish to establish the founders’ original intent should consider the written notes of the debates within the individual states as they considered ratifying the newly written Constitution. What state during the founding era could have justified voting to ratify the Constitution knowing that they would be expected to cede control of vast amounts of the land within their borders?

Conventional wisdom holds that only Beltway bureaucrats possess the necessary wisdom to exercise proper stewardship over land use in the West. Now Washington D.C. is being asked to keep promises that serve to clarify not just land use issues, but also the balance of state versus federal powers. This may be the strongest challenge to federal supremacy in over a century.


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Copyright 2012 St. George News.


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1 Comment

  • Mark February 23, 2012 at 9:24 am

    Discussed this topic on the radio show on Wednesday and Bryan my friend you nailed it. Very well researched and written. Spot on.

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