Letter to the House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Regarding the Utah School Lands Trust
September 30, 2009
The National Education Association respectfully submits the following comments regarding the proposed America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act of 2009, which, along with several other bills, will be the subject of a hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands this week.
The America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act includes provisions that would declare about nine million acres in Utah as Wilderness, including about one million school trust land acres. School trust lands were granted to Utah by Congress, pursuant to the Utah Enabling Act of 1894, for the financial support of Utah’s public schools. For the 2008-09 academic school year trust lands distributed over $27.1 million to Utah public schools for academic, locally controlled programs at each school.
Closing one million school trust land acres to economic activity would have dramatic negative effects on education funding, employment, local and state tax revenues, energy production for the nation, and quality of life in the state - as it would affect many sources of jobs. Congressional decisions regarding and affecting Utah’s school trust lands should be made with every reasonable effort not to encumber trust property, waste trust assets, nor inhibit the efficient and profitable operation of the school trust. Congress should balance the need to preserve wilderness lands with adequate protections to the school lands trust.
We propose that the America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act be amended as follows:
- Section 203 should be amended to require the Secretary to exchange at value for value within a specified period of time, and list the specific lands that the school trust can require in exchange.
- Due to the size of the exchanges that will be needed, the legislation should provide for a ledger account so that each partial exchange need not balance to zero.
- Because the settlor, which is the US Congress, is responsible for not obstructing the purpose for which the trust lands were granted, the legislation should indicate that all costs of the exchanges are to be borne by the US Congress, including funding to facilitate those exchanges, provided within the legislation.
- Given the immense assets represented by the one million acres that will need to be exchanged, the Secretary should be authorized to allow the Utah school trust lands to acquire lands from the public domain in other states, if needed.
We thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments and look forward to working with the subcommittee to protect Utah’s public schools.
Director of Government Relations
Manager of Federal Advocacy