Bill Calls For $50 Million For Wyoming To Sue Feds Over Land Use Policy

Wyoming should set aside $50 million, earmarked for lawsuits against the federal government when federal policy hurts Wyoming’s interest, legislators say.

Mark Heinz

February 14, 20243 min read

The Red Desert is a high altitude sagebrush steppe and dry landscape in southern Wyoming.
The Red Desert is a high altitude sagebrush steppe and dry landscape in southern Wyoming. (Photo by Kyle Spradley via Adobe Stock)

Wyoming should have greater leeway to sue the federal government over land use policy, and $50 million to cover the legal fees, according to a bill before the state Legislature.

“We find the playing field is very often unequal” when it comes to Wyoming’s interests in disputes over federal land policies, Wyoming Farm Bureau Association Vice President Ken Hamilton told legislators Tuesday.

He made his remarks to the Wyoming Senate Agriculture, State and Public Land and Water Resources Committee, saying that his organization supports the bill.

The committee voted unanimously to forward Senate File 13, which calls for a $50 million fund for legal actions regarding a host of federal land use acts.

Southwest Wyoming rancher Laura Pearson told the committee via Zoom that she also supports the bill, which she thinks would help protect the interests of Wyoming residents.

Pushback Against Feds

The core of the matter is how much say Wyoming has over policy on the vast tracts of federal land within its borders.

Wyoming was admitted to the United States as “coequal branch of government,’ according to the bill’s text. Therefore it should have the power to bring legal action against bad policies on federal land, in accordance with the federal regulations themselves.

According to the bill: “National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and other federal acts to provide standing for the Legislature to prosecute an action for declaratory judgment to protect its interests and the interests of the public.”

Another bill pushing back against federal authority, House Bill 36, was introduced to the Wyoming House on Tuesday and referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

That bill would allow Wyoming’s governor, as advised by the state attorney general, to refuse to offer state, county or local enforcement of policies determined to violate the federal government’s own standards.

Alleged federal overreach became at hot topic last year when the Bureau of Land Management proposed a controversial plan for millions of acres overseen through the agency’s Rock Springs office.

‘Dual Sovereignty’

SF 13 claims that the U.S. Constitution recognizes “the jurisdiction of the Wyoming Legislature over land within the boundaries of the state of Wyoming.”

Article Four, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution takes that principle even further, committee member Sen. Bob Ide, R-Casper said. Although the SF 13 in its present form doesn’t reference it, such references could be added during discussion of the bill before the full Senate.

That article states that “The United States shall guarantee very state in the union a republican form of government and shall protect each of them against invasions,” he said.

He noted that it’s also relevant to the current dispute over policy at the southern border between the federal government and Texas.

And it applies to Wyoming, because of the vast amount of federal land here, Ide said.

“Half of our state really isn’t a republican form of government, with federal land holdings held in their jurisdiction, not ours,” he said.

Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, also suggested that the term “coequal” could be strengthened to “dual sovereignty” over federal land in Wyoming.

The committee took no action regarding that suggestion. Ide said it might confuse the matter, because “sovereignty” generally refers to the relationship of the United States as a whole to other nations.

Mark Heinz can be reached at

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter