Last October, the California Legislature passed a law, SB 50, that purports to give the state the authority to stop the sale of federal land. On Monday, the Trump administration filed suit against the land law, arguing that the legislation oversteps the state’s legal boundaries. The law was passed out of concern that public land could be taken away and used in ways that undermine conservation efforts.

In a statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions argued that California’s claim was unconstitutional: “The Constitution empowers the federal government—not state legislatures—to decide when and how federal lands are sold. California was admitted to the Union upon the express condition that it would never interfere with the disposal of federal land,” he wrote.

The Hill reports:

The bill, passed into law in October, was viewed largely as a direct check against the Trump administration, which has over the past year sought to increase oil and gas drilling on public lands and shrunk the boundaries of two national monuments.

The bill was passed as part of a trio in an overarching “Preserve California” package. The bill now under challenge by the Trump administration expressly seeks to discourage the sale of federal public land without the state’s permission—by giving California the right of “first refusal.”

In his statement, Sessions criticizes the California law as one of many “extreme” maneuvers taken by the state.

“Once again, the California legislature has enacted an extreme state law attempting to frustrate federal policy” Sessions wrote. “The Justice Department shouldn’t have to spend valuable time and resources to file this suit today, but we have a duty to defend the rightful prerogatives of the U.S. military, the Interior Department, and other federal agencies to buy, sell, exchange or donate federal properties in a lawful manner in the national interest.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra responded on Twitter, writing, “#California’s public lands should not be on the auction block to the highest bidder! We’re prepared, as always, to do what it takes to protect our people, our resources, and our values.”

Becerra said California will rise to meet the DOJ challenge. “California didn’t become our nation’s economic engine and the sixth-largest economy in the world by just sitting back,” he said. “We blaze trails, we innovate, and we engage in smart stewardship of our precious public lands.”

Many believe SB 50 was passed in California as a preventative measure, given recent political moves by Republicans to scale back environmental protections. Last October, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski proposed opening parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling. The proposal was passed in December, tacked onto the massive Republican tax overhaul, and signaled to many environmentalists that they needed to double down on conservation efforts.

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