Twenty-eight percent of land in the United States is owned by the federal government, a fact that environmentalists hope to leverage to fight climate change, even as conservatives protest “land grabs” that thwart economic activity.
Paul Bedard reported on one green plan for the land this week. “More than millions of acres across the landscape will be required,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “The lands will be protected by easement, by land acquisitions, by local, by land trusts, by state agencies, by federal agencies.” The federal government owns about 640 million acres, according to Senate Budget Committee Republican staff. (For comparison, the area covered by the 13 states that first formed the union — before West Virginia split from Virginia — is about 235 million acres).
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, suggested that the federal government yield some of that land to the states. “I am very concerned for Utah and the country that the administration will continue the policies that have resulted in major land grabs by the federal government,” Lee, whose home state is 70 percent owned by the federal government, said in a statement to The Washington Examiner.
“These policies are choking the ability of local communities to invest and generate the economic activity that pays for schools, roads, and critical infrastructure,” he added. “The people and their local officials are responsible stewards of the land. Rather than find new lands to lock up, the White House should be using this opportunity to work with them and turn over control of these important resources.”
An Arizona Republican argued that federal land ownership puts Western states at a disadvantage relative to Eastern states. From the New York Times:
“If you look at a map of the United States, all the states in the East are private land,” said Al Melvin, a Republican state senator who sponsored the bill in Arizona, where the federal government owns 48 percent of the land. “That’s why many of them are doing so well — it’s private land in Texas and North Dakota where they’re drilling for oil and fracking for gas,” he added. “The 50 states are separate but not equal.”
The Congressional Research Service reported recently that oil and gas development on federal land dropped 33 percent between 2008 and 2012. Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell was ambivalent in her statement to Sen. David Vitter, R-La., when he asked what she regarded as the best use of federal land.
“I believe we must take a balanced approach to uses of public lands to allow, as appropriate, energy, resource development, and recreation balanced with important conservation values,” Jewell wrote to Vitter last week. “I do not believe it is, or needs to be, an ‘either/or’ proposition -- it should be a ‘both/and’ proposition.”