PHOENIX - Arizona really can force the federal government to surrender title to close 73 million acres of land in the state, the chief proponent of the ballot proposition insists.
But others who
support Proposition 120 concede that even with voter approval it may be a
legally ineffective measure, as the likelihood of Congress agreeing is
Still, they say there is a good reason for Arizona
voters to declare sovereignty over all that federal land, and it could
make a difference, even without congressional action, by forcing federal
agencies to be more responsive to requests to make use of those public
However, the measure ran into a wall of opposition largely
from the environmental community fearful of the management practices of
state agencies reporting to state elected officials.
On paper the
idea behind Proposition 120 is simple. It would add a section to the
Arizona Constitution declaring the "sovereign and exclusive authority
over the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural
resources within its border."
Central to the idea is frustration with federal management of its lands within the state.
Chester Crandell, R-Heber, sponsor of the legislation that put the
issue on the ballot, said a prime example has been the forests.
had a thriving forest industry back in the '70s and '80s," he said,
with timber companies harvesting logs on federal lands. "That's when all
the (environmental) lawsuits started."
That, in turn, led to a
reticence of federal agencies to allow logging projects, or even forest
thinning. The result, Crandell said, has been huge wildfires that
devastated large portions of the state.
"And what have we accomplished?" he continued. "We've burned up the habitat of the spotted owl and the goshawk as well."
Jim Klinker, chief administrative officer of the Arizona Farm Bureau, sees it in more basic terms.
forests should have been thinned. We should have had timbering out
there. We should encourage grazing on those lands, put ranchers out
there to manage it, put foresters out there to manage these lands
working with these federal agencies," he said. "But that has broken
And that gets to the essence of Klinker's complaint.
said groups that seek to do something on federal lands, like grazing,
used to be able to work with federal employees on the ground in Arizona.
They could get quick answers, which is no longer the case.
"There's little response, if you will, from the federal agencies," he said.
seems to get worse and worse," Klinker said. "The bureaucracy that
dictates from Washington, D.C., to the Forest Service and BLM land is
just getting so bureaucratic you can't get anything done on the ground."
concerns about how state agencies would manage the lands, Steve
Arnquist of the Arizona League of Conservation Voters said, there are
more practical arguments against the measure.
One is that it makes
no sense to let each of the 50 states have its own set of environmental
rules and regulations, and not have a baseline safe level of clean air
and clean water, he said.
"Let's say one state has a more
aggressive Clean Air Act standard than the state next to it," he said.
"But the air doesn't know when to stay in the state."
rejected arguments that there may be legitimate reasons to let states
set some of their own environmental regulations, such as for dust
control, which is different in the desert than it might be back East.
"I would respond to that that human lungs are the same in all the states," Arnquist said.
know what the maximum levels of certain pollutants are before it starts
making people sick," he said. "And that's the same whether you're in
Pennsylvania or you're in Arizona."
Perhaps the bigger question is
whether Arizona could actually manage all those federal lands when,
Arnquist noted, the state has struggled just to keep its parks open.
Gov. Jan Brewer agrees.
said while she shares the frustration over how the state's natural
resources are being managed, this is not the answer. Brewer vetoed an
early legislative attempt to take control of federal lands.
said if the federal government were to somehow accede to the demand, the
state is totally unprepared to take over almost 73 million acres of
Crandell said Arizona could manage all those lands,
collecting the fees and using them to help balance the state budget and
keep taxes low.
Klinker, however, has his doubts.
think these lands could be turned over overnight to the states," he
said. "But there could be a system in place that moved more decision
making back here to the local level."
And that, from Klinker's
perspective, could be the best possible outcome, especially with the
belief that the vote would be largely symbolic.