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Utah Legislature: Lawmakers scream at feds over environmental issues

Published: Friday, March 12 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Mike Noel (Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News) Mike Noel (Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Stung from yanked oil and gas leases and paranoid that new national monuments may come to Utah, state lawmakers screamed back at the federal government this session with a flurry of message bills.

With Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, leading the charge, they added bite to their bark by also passing a number of measures to curb federal control of public lands or its exercise of dominion over industry as it relates to climate change.

Urged on by the agricultural industry and energy producers, lawmakers told the EPA to back off its finding that carbon dioxide should be regulated as a greenhouse gas and said the U.S. president should refrain from "coronating" himself with new monument designations.

For the second consecutive year, Utah's governor is being told to withdraw the state from the Western Climate Initiative, a multi-state coalition working to tackle climate change on a regional level.

Of course in 2009, then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. ignored the request. It's unclear what action might be taken by Gov. Gary Herbert, who has publicly expressed doubt over the science behind human-caused climate change.

GOP lawmakers used the hapless financial circumstances of Utah's underfunded schoolchildren to bolster passage of a pair of bills that direct the state attorney general to exercise eminent domain on federal property leading to school trust lands.

With a three-year appropriation of $1 million annually from a restricted land account, legislators are prepared to sue the federal government to wrest control of certain roads they say will unlock millions in additional revenue for schools. This despite a warning from legislative attorneys who said case law would preclude a victory.

Lawmakers also waded into controversy over access to public waterways on private property, setting up repeated debates between recreationists and landowners, but in the end adopted a bill that delays implementation until 2011.

In the meantime, they will study the conflict so they're sure it is resolved to adequately provide access yet at the same protect property owners.

e-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

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