Over 50 state leaders from nine states gathered earlier this month to take a stand against the ongoing long-term federal land grab and discuss plans to gain state control. The recent standoff in Nevada seems to have drawn some national attention to a topic that has been ongoing.
The legislators said the timing of the meeting just after the standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch was a coincidence, but that such a problem was waiting to happen.
“What’s happened in Nevada is really just a symptom of a much larger problem,” said Republican Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart.
The federal government owns 84 percent of Nevada, and similar outsized portions of most other Western states, according to Lock hart.
The U.S. Constitution grants the federal government authority over land “purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be,” provided it has a purpose, such as “the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings.”
The discussion centered around finding a way for the states to take control, instead of the federal government.
“Utah has been way ahead on this,” said Sen. Jennifer Fielder (R-MT). “We have to start managing these lands. It’s the right thing to do for our people, for our environment, for our economy and for our freedoms.”
“What’s happened in Nevada is really just a symptom of a much larger problem,” Lockhart told reporters at the press conference.
The BLM oversees more than 245 million acres of public lands nationwide.
“It’s time the states in the West come of age,” Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives Scott Bedke (R) said. “We’re every bit as capable of managing the lands in our boundaries as the states east of Colorado.”
In September of 2013, legislators in South Dakota and Nebraska began a campaign to draw attention to a potential federal government purchase of 140,000 acres of privately held property in the two states, under the Land Protection Plan (LPP) for the Niobrara Confluence and Ponca Bluffs Conservation Area. “Viable agricultural land and taxable private property is targeted in this conservation area. Ag producers, taxpayers, and private property owners in this area should pay attention,” said Sen. Dan Lederman (R-SD).
“Our federal government has failed to manage the public land wisely it already has under its control.
I do not believe that we should give them more authority over our private property until they can manage the land and waterways we already expect them to manage,” said Lederman.
In the September 22, 2013, issue of the Sioux Falls, SD, Argus Leader, Scott VanderWal, President of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, stated, “We certainly respect the right of individual landowners to do what they wish with their land. It’s something people might want to look at.”
Still, VanderWal said the farm group prefers allowing farmers to continue working the land, such as cattle farmers using it for grazing, rather than taking it out of production altogether. He also opposed the federal government purchasing more land.
“We have some heartburn going on over that type of thing. We think the federal government owns enough land and it really should be kept in the hands of private landowners,” VanderWal said.
The ability of the White House to simply snatch land from under the feet of the American people comes from the Antiquities Act of 1906. The Act was initially intended to set aside small portions of land for monuments and national parks, but has since been used by lawmakers to control large quantities of property.
In Texas, officials are concerned that the BLM might be eyeing a massive land grab in the northern part of the state.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sent a letter to BLM Director Neil Kornze saying the agency “appears to be threatening” the private property rights of “hard-working Texans.”
“Decisions of this magnitude must not be made inside a bureaucratic black box,” wrote Abbott.
At issue is 90,000 acres on the Texas side of the Red River, along the border between Texas and Oklahoma. BLM argues that any land in question was long ago determined to be public property.
“The BLM is categorically not expanding federal holdings along the Red River,” a BLM spokeswoman said in a written statement to Fox News.
Abbott, in his letter to the agency, said, “It is not at all clear what legal basis supports the BLM’s claim of federal ownership over private property.” He said private landowners have cultivated the property “for generations.”
In California, landowner Bill Johnson of Temecula claims his property at Vail Lake, the largest privately owned lake in California, is being threatened by the county, state and federal governments.
Johnson purchased 11,000 acres of land in Riverside County over 17 years ago, including Vail Lake, encompassing over 1,000 square surface acres of water. Now Johnson says the government wants his land, in part because it is surrounded by BLM parcels.
Johnson told Breitbart News: “The habitat is free of any endangered species. The government just wants it because it’s part of their ‘core area’ due to the properties of water and enormous size.”According to reports, Johnson owes back property taxes on the land in question—$4.75 million.
“How can you pay taxes on property you can do nothing with? The government will sneer at you and say, ‘It’s our property. You need to pay taxes, but the property is ours in the end.’ During the 17 years that I’ve owned Vail Lake, I have not built one single thing on the property. The minute I bought my land, they started taking all my rights away. They stripped the zoning, general plan, and specific plan for the property and open space designation, depriving it of its value,” Johnson told Breitbart News.
This is not Johnson’s first run-in with government land grabs. In 1995 the government seized his 2,000-acre ranch on the Santa Rosa Plateau. Johnson said he lost over $18 million on the property, which the county claims to have seized to protect the endangered kangaroo rat.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the ability to declare any piece of land as “wetlands” under the Clean Water Act. In addition, the Environmental Species Act leaves other properties at risk for government seizures, leaving the landowner with the taxes on the land, and no use.
“I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations,” Obama said in his State of the Union address earlier this year.
Legislation on overreach
In March, by a vote of 233-181, the House of Representatives approved the Executive Needs to Faithfully Observe and Respect Congressional Enactments of the Law (ENFORCE the Law) Act (H.R. 4138), a carefully crafted bill to rein in the growing problem of executive overreach and restore balance to the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution.
The ENFORCE the Law Act, introduced by Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), Darrell Issa (R-CA), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), and Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA), puts a procedure in place to permit the House, or the Senate, to authorize a lawsuit against the Executive Branch for failure to faithfully execute the laws.
The legislation also provides for expedited consideration of any such lawsuit, first through a three-judge panel at the federal district court level and then by providing for direct appeal to the United States Supreme Court. According to the act’s authors, ENFORCE is crucial to ensuring that when a lawsuit is brought against the administration to enforce a law, the courts not only grant Congress standing, but also hear the case on an expedited timeline to prevent the president from stalling the litigation until his or her term is up. In addition, to overcome past procedural hurdles, the bill statutorily prevents the courts from using courtcreated procedural principles as an excuse to avoid making decisions in these important separation of powers cases.
Rep. Gowdy: “The Constitution gives Congress the responsibility to write the laws and the executive to enforce them. We don’t pass suggestions. We don’t pass ideas. We pass laws. Regardless of our politics, I hope my colleagues have enough regard for our work to expect those laws would be faithfully executed.
“The ENFORCE the Law Act is necessary. It gives Congress the ability to remedy executive overreach— not just react to it or punish it. Our framers designed a system of three coequal branches. As a senator, President Obama repeatedly warned of the dangers of the executive branch. This bill would allow us to defend the legislative branch as the framers and our fellow citizens expect.”
Chairman Goodlatte: “The separation of powers is the most fundamental element in our system of government and is designed to protect individual liberty and the rule of law. The Constitution clearly states that it’s Congress’ role to write our laws and it’s the president’s duty to enforce them. However, President Obama has failed on multiple occasions to enforce laws that he disagrees with for policy reasons and has also stretched his regulatory authority to put in place policies Congress has refused to pass. President Obama routinely legislates through press releases and letters rather than work with Americans’ elected representatives in Congress.
“With an unrestrained Executive Branch that knows no limits, it is ultimately up to the Congress and the courts to check the president’s overreach and restore balance to our system of government. Today’s passage of the ENFORCE the Law Act takes us one step closer to preventing the president from legislating through executive decrees by allowing Congress to challenge executive overreach in the courts and expediting judicial review of those challenges. Preventing executive overreach is not about partisan politics—it is about preserving our system of government and safeguarding our liberties for the generations to come. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to put aside politics and party and carefully consider the dangers of an unchecked Executive Branch.”
Rep. Issa: “President Obama has established a disturbing pattern of cherry picking the laws he wishes to enforce. The House acted decisively today, to bring accountability back to the Oval Office by allowing Congress to authorize lawsuits against the Executive Branch when they fail to uphold our nation’s laws. The Constitution charges the president with the responsibility to faithfully execute all the laws and not just the ones he supports. The Executive Branch has grown so bloated and convoluted that it now comfortably abuses its power knowing that the complexity of its actions and judicial procedure will effectively allow it to circumvent the other two branches of our government. We must restore a working system of checks and balances that ensures the government’s actions are judged on constitutional merits rather than bypassed or delayed based on the political whims of the president and his appointees. This legislation provides the simple expedited procedure that lawmakers and the American people need to hold their federal government accountable.”
Rep. Gerlach: “This legislation is necessary because of a series of unilateral actions the president has taken in recent years to selectively apply, enforce, and even ignore duly-enacted laws passed. Our system of checks and balances was designed to prevent a president—or any one branch of the federal government— from being able to unilaterally declare a law means whatever that individual wants it to mean. That’s why I’m pleased the House acted today to restore and preserve the delicate constitutional balance among the three branches of our federal system and take an important step in restoring the public’s overall confidence in our system of governance.” — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor