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Brewer vetoes bill that demanded federal land

Gov. Jan Brewer (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed legislation Monday that would have had the state join Utah in demanding that the federal government surrender control of millions of acres of public land.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed similar states’ rights legislation in March despite warnings from legislative attorneys that the law was probably unconstitutional.

Supporters of the Arizona legislation argued that the states would be better managers of resources such as timber and minerals on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Critics called the legislation an embarrassment and said it could open the door to easing environmental protections for public land.

Supporters of the Arizona bill acknowledged during legislative debate that there was little chance that Washington would actually surrender any land to the state.

“I am concerned about the lack of certainty this legislation could create for individuals holding existing leases on federal lands,” Brewer said in a statement. “Given the difficult economic times, I do not believe this is the time to add to that uncertainty.”

Each state’s legislation specifically includes or exempts certain types of property.

The Utah legislation lists dozens of national parks, national monuments and wilderness areas as being exempted from the demand. The Arizona legislation would have covered national forests, national monuments and wildlife refuges but excluded Indian reservations, military bases and national parks.

The Arizona bill was sidelined after a House committee decided it was unconstitutional. The bill was revived, however, when the full House changed several provisions. In a key change, the bill’s provision requiring the federal government to surrender control of public land was changed to a demand that Washington do so.

Like the Utah law, the Arizona legislation called for formation of a state commission to decide details of how the transfers of control of public land would work.

The Arizona Legislature separately approved a related ballot measure — which is not subject to approval by the governor — to declare that the state has sovereignty over the air, water and other natural resources within its boundaries.

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