GOP right-wingers once again propose selling public lands

Sen. Mark Udall says proposal is ‘imprudent and detrimental’

Could selling off public lands in the West help solve the budget crisis?

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The election may be over, but that doesn’t mean the political silly season has ended, as shown by a recent letter from arch-conservative and anti-environmental House GOP right-wingers Rob Bishop (Utah) and Stephen Pearce (Arizona).

On Nov. 26 the two congressmen tried to once again revive interest in the idea of selling public lands in the West to private interests as a way of helping address the federal budget crisis — never mind that most local and state governments don’t have enough money to manage the land they already control.

The idea, of course, is to allow unbridled development on those lands, including real estate speculation and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, including oil drilling in Alaska and oil shale development in Colorado.

“Congress should take immediate steps to reduce spending and find alternative ways to increase revenues. This balanced approach can be achieved by tapping into our onshore and offshore energy resources, disposing of unneeded land and liquidating surplus federal buildings,” Pearce and Bishop wrote to Speaker of the House John Boehner.

The congressmen went on to specifically identify the Green River formation, repeating the myth that the area could yield more than 1 trillion barrels of recoverable oil shale, “nearly four times the reserves of Saudi Arabia,” claiming that the area has been placed off limits by the Obama administration.

“The federal government owns rougly 650 million acres of land … Over 90% of this land is located in the western states, and most if it we do not even need … Strategically transferring ownership of these lands where it makes sense … is consistent with the principles of federalism our founding fathers envisioned,” they wrote.

The proposal drew a blistering response from Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who said it would be “imprudent and detrimental to the Western economy if the federal government were to sell off public lands as part of a deal to avert the fiscal cliff.”

“Colorado is home to some of the best open spaces in the West.  In fact, many Colorado businesses and families have moved here because of our high quality of life and spectacular public lands,” Udall said. “Selling off our parks, forests, wilderness and other public lands – in Colorado and throughout the West – would not only be shortsighted, but it also would undermine a critical component of our thriving outdoor economy.  Our public lands are, in many ways, our most renewable and reliable economic driver.”

Udall cited last week’s report from Headwaters Economics, a Montana-based think tank, showing that Colorado’s public lands give private companies located in the state a competitive advantage in attracting top talent, growing and creating jobs.

“We need to leave every option on the table when it comes to confronting the fiscal cliff, but we also cannot abandon the strategic investments and job-creating resources we already have in place,” Udall added.


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