The 115th (2017–2018) Congress poses an existential threat to America’s public lands, which comprise 609 million acres across our fifty states. As Republicans have the majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, anti-public-land Republicans are well positioned to advance a wide range of truly horrible legislation.
Though President Trump has said he “loves” public lands and doesn’t want to sell or give them to states, counties, or private industry, he does favor increased logging, grazing, mining, drilling, and just about anything else bad for these lands. While I’m glad the president doesn’t favor transferring title of federal public lands to states, counties, or industries, I’m concerned he will sign legislation undermining environmental protections or ceding operational control to these nefarious entities. This president won’t be much help to save federal public lands.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has identified and is targeting fifteen federal lawmakers “plotting to seize, destroy, and privatize America’s public lands.” There are more than that, actually, but these fifteen are especially bad:
1. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)
2. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah, 1st District)
3. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
4. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz., 4th District)
5. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)
6. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah, 2nd District)
7. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska, At Large)
8. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)
9. Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho, 1st District)
10. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah, 3rd District)
11. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev., 2nd District)
12. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
13. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M., 2nd District)
14. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif., 4th District)
15. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.)
Maybe we ought rethink this statehood thing for at least Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Alaska.
CBD evaluated legislation introduced in the 112th (2011–2012), 113th (2013–2014), and 114th (2015–2016) Congresses and compiled it into a detailed report. Many of these bills have already been introduced early in this present 115th Congress (2017–2018) and more will be. The Center’s report categorized this nefarious pile of legislation into four distinct kinds of destruction:
• Land seizure: Legislation that would authorize handing over or selling America’s public lands to states and/or private interests for industrialization and development.
• Private/county/state control of public lands: Bills that would give management and operational authority, but not title, to interests that want to maximize revenue through extraction and elimination of environmental and wildlife protections. These include bills that grant states the ability to take over control of livestock grazing permits and fossil fuel leasing on federal lands, and a bill that grants local counties law enforcement authority over BLM and Forest Service lands.
• Weakening federal protections: Bills that would eliminate or weaken federal environmental laws and rules. This category includes bills that would reverse the landmark Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which protects undeveloped national forestlands, and eliminate designations for millions of acres of public lands that are currently managed to protect their wilderness character. These bills also often undermine or eliminate the public’s ability to comment on public lands management and to be informed of environmental harms through the National Environmental Policy Act.
• No more parks, monuments, or refuges: For more than a century, Congress has delegated power to the president to proclaim national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt. The Antiquities Act gave the president authority to act swiftly to protect irreplaceable national treasures. Congress has upgraded many national monuments to national park status. The Antiquities Act is responsible for the original protection of nearly half of our beloved national parks. This category contains many bills that would strip the president of this authority. Other bills in this category would take away the authority of the secretary of the interior and the secretary of commerce to designate new national wildlife refuges or new national marine sanctuaries, respectively.
I’m least worried about bills that outright give or sell federal public lands to special interests, such as states, counties, or industries. Public Lands Enemy #10, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, introduced H.R. 621, a bill that would give three million acres of federal public lands to certain states. Even though this legislation had been introduced in previous Congresses, this time backlash was massive and swift, forcing Rep. Chaffetz to take to Instagram with a picture of himself dressed in camo and holding a reluctant hunting puppy to announce he was withdrawing his bill. Make no mistake; this was only a tactical retreat on his part. He now has to only abjectly apologize for twenty-three additional anti-public-lands bills he supported between 2009 and 2016.
I’m more worried about bills that would weaken existing environmental protections on federal public lands, or cede operational control of federal public lands to states, counties, or industries, or prevent a president (well, after this one) from protecting lands as national monuments.
Ironically, it may be other Republicans who say no to the assault on federal public lands. It turns out that Americans of every ideology and geography love federal public lands. For example, in a December 2016 poll by Hart and commissioned by the Center for American Progress, 91 percent “ranked as an important goal for the federal government the protection and maintenance of national parks, public lands, and natural places” and “ranked as important that these natural places be protected for future generations.” These polling numbers are remarkable in that not even that percentage of people love their mother (unless it’s their Mother Earth). Even in seven states in the Intermountain West, 68 percent of voters view public lands as American places that belong to the whole country.
The support for federal public lands to remain federal public lands and to be managed responsibly for the benefit of this and future generations is broad and deep, while opposition to federal public lands is narrow and shallow. Yet, as has been shown by a plethora of evil legislation, the only thing necessary for bad legislation to pass is for good people not to object.
I object. How about you?