The Conference of Western Attorneys General on Friday urged Interior Secretary-designate Manuel Lujan to recognize the Western states' needs to regulate their own resources.
In a letter to Lujan, Idaho Attorney General Jim Jones, conference chairman, said the federal government's vast land holdings and water claims in the West raise special federalism concerns."The Western Attorneys General are hoping to establish a mutually beneficial working relationship with the new leadership in the Department of Interior," Jones said.
"So many public lands and water issues depend upon a balanced view of federalism by those in charge of policy making in the Interior Department," he said.
The conference is asking Lujan to consider its views on a number of issues and meet with the group in March to discuss those concerns, Jones said.
A position paper prepared for Lujan says federal agencies in recent years have taken action to erode the federal government's traditional policy of deferring to state water law.
Federal agencies should comply with applicable state law and defer to states in questions of state title and public rights in navigable waters, the paper said.
"Future withdrawals of federal land for wilderness and parks should direct the United States to obtain its water rights in accordance with state water permit requirements," the paper said.
The conference also is urging the federal government to take several steps to facilitate negotiation of federal reserved water rights claims. It also calls for retention of laws paying mineral leasing revenues to Western states.
The group also urges the Interior Department to "recognize the need for uniform resource regulation" in public land states where jurisdiction is divided among the federal government, Indian tribes and states.
The position paper calls on the federal government to comply with federal and state environmental laws.
"The new administration should make it a priority to insure that federal facilities set an example to private industry by moving forward expeditiously to fully respond to environmental concerns," the position paper said.