Utah’s Legislature passed and its Governor signed a bill authorizing that state to condemn property owned by the U.S. Government. As the bill states, it “authorizes the state to exercise eminent domain authority on property possessed by the federal government unless the property was acquired by the federal government with the consent of the Legislature and in accordance with the United States Constitution Article I, Section 8, Clause 17.”
More than 60 percent of Utah is owned by the U.S. and many in that State have complained that federal ownership hinders their ability to generate tax revenue and adequately fund public schools. It has been reported that the state would initially target three areas for the use of eminent domain, including the Kaiparowits plateau in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is home to large coal reserves.
This bill could induce other Western states to try to reclaim their own national monuments and landmarks, eventually opening them for energy production and other development. Utah lawmakers say they have contacted representatives in Arizona, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming about adopting similar legislation in their states, with the goal of taking the issue to the Supreme Court. However, it is likely that this bill will ultimately be found to be unconstitutional. Similar laws have been struck on the basis that they violate the U.S. the Constitution’s "supremacy" clause.