Call it the envirotax.
Kane County is forced to raise taxes by 70 percent or 80 percent to pay for lawsuits it pursued taking on environmental issues, according to a southern Utah representative.
Rep. Michael E. Noel, R-Kanab, complained about the burden carried by Kane and Garfield counties because of taking on the federal government over issues like rural road claims and grazing. He spoke Wednesday during a meeting of the Legislature's Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.
Noel was unhappy over a $100,000 state appropriation that had not been turned over to Kane County for court expenses.
John Harja, acting coordinator of the Governor's Public Lands Policy Coordination Office, recommended that the money should be retained for studies his office funds. For example, he said, it could go to continue research on grazing trends in the state.
A court had decided that Kane County could not pay for a grazing suit, Harja said. An individual had sued the Bureau of Land Management and the court ruled that was a private suit, not for public purposes, so Kane County could not receive the appropriated funds.
Speaking of the grazing study and other efforts, such as an impending battle over road designations, Harja said, "I would appreciate it if that money could be retained for that purpose."
Concerning recent fights over road closures, Noel said, "it sounds like we didn't prevail in a lot of those."
He said a suit was appealed to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of appeals following a ruling by Campbell in the lower federal court.
"That was Tena Campbell," Noel said. "That's probably the worst judge we can get" in such matters.
He added that Campbell took the position that counties basically had no interest in grazing. "She said, 'No, that's not important to them,"' Noel said.
Kane County seems to be the epicenter of battles over federal rules, he said. If the county position can't prevail in the courts to begin with, "it's very, very difficult to turn around."
Harja said the judge in the grazing suit said the county was not to pass on money to support a private lawsuit.
"That was part of it," Noel replied. Other matters such as federal-county road disputes also are involved, he said.
Kane County is going to "raise their taxes down there this year about 70 or 80 percent" to pay for such lawsuits, Noel added. "I just think it's wrong that we didn't give them that money to those two counties (Garfield and Kane) because it would not have violated the court decision. ...
"We think it (the suit) impacts every single county in the state of Utah and every single grazing permit in the state of Utah."Rep. Ben Ferry, R-Corinne, the committee's co-chairman, said the money is still available. He added that the Legislature could recommend that it go to pay certain court expenses.