GOP plan Bundy-style public land giveaway to oil, mining and ranching millionaires

  • Published on January 21st, 2016

By Meteor Blades

Two Republican Utah congressmen have introduced a deceptive public lands initiative zion national park - GOP wants to give away public landsdesigned to open a million acres of public land to private interests while pretending to protect other lands under a bogus “wilderness” designation where weakened environmental regulations would make that label a very unfunny joke.

For 40 years, extremists have been eager to take over federal lands. It started with the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s, which was reincarnated in the 1980s and ‘90s as the so-called Wise Use movement, which was and is a network of right-wing grassroots and corporate front groups focused on attacking environmentalists and promoting free-for-all resource exploitation.

Among its exemplars have been James G. Watt, the corrupt secretary of Interior appointed by Ronald Reagan, and funders like the cult fascist Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of theWashington Times.

The movement’s anti-government, anti-environmentalist rhetoric has sparked its own cohort of stormtroopers whose latest action is on display in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where ever more militants are showing up every day to join the armed takeover and demand that the land be given back to its original owners. They mean themselves, of course, not the Northern Paiutes whose presence there dates back several thousand years. That land has been in federal hands since it was pried from the Paiutes nearly 140 years ago.

The Wise Use movement has sought to open all but a small portion of federal lands to unfettered clear-cutting, mining, grazing, and the driving of off-road recreational vehicles. The rhetoric of today’s movement, polished in The Wise Use Agenda, a 1989 book edited by Alan Gottlieb, talks a good game to the uninitiated. But it dismisses environmental concerns.

Rep. Rob Bishop is one of the congressional leaders of what the Wise Use movement has evolved into. He’s chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. In April last year, he and fellow Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart, together with a few other mostly Western representatives, founded the Federal Land Action Group. Said Bishop in an announcement about FLAG:

“This group will explore legal and historical background in order to determine the best congressional action needed to return these lands back to the rightful owners. We have assembled a strong team of lawmakers, and I look forward to formulating a plan that reminds the federal government it should leave the job of land management to those who know best.”

As in Oregon, returning the land to “the rightful owners” does not in Bishop’s view mean transferring it to the only entities other than the federal government that have ever claimed it, American Indians. That’s proved by the bill Bishop and yet another Utah Republican, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, introduced Wednesday. Called the Public Lands Initiative, it would affect 18 million acres in eastern Utah.

Preparing for the bill included meeting with a variety of affected groups, including Indian tribes and the oil and gas industry. But that didn’t make the final bill better. Here’s Jenny Rowland’s assessment:

[O]ver the past several months there have been many significant changes made to the bill, turning it from a gesture of compromise to a divisive bill that includes a Bundy-style public land giveaway, pseudo-wilderness protections, accelerated oil and gas development, and the marginalization of several original stakeholder groups. […]

Though the Bishop bill would designate nearly 2.2 million new acres as wilderness, these lands would be exempted from key protections in the Wilderness Act. The bill mandates, for example, that grazing of livestock continue in all areas where it is currently permitted, without any flexibility to adapt to changing range conditions or environmental degradation. Wilderness lands in the bill would also be prohibited from being designated as a “Class I airshed” — meaning that these lands, and the wildlife, vegetation and recreationists within them will not be protected from air pollution from the oil and gas drilling that will be allowed up to the edge of the wilderness areas.

In other words, the land wouldn’t meet the definitions of Wilderness included in the federal act that established the program 52 years ago. “Effectively, less wilderness would be protected in Utah if this bill passed than what is currently managed for the public,” said Scott Groene of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. That organization states on its website: “It is lipstick on a pig and a Trojan Horse that will take conservation backwards. It is a fossil fuel development bill and a giveaway of public resources.”

Among the losers would be a coalition of tribes that had proposed protecting several cultural areas and co-management of 1.9 million acres of new national monument. The tribes finally gave up talking to the Utah delegation because they weren’t being listened to, a long-standing problem for Indians on a whole range of issues since three shiploads of businesspeople arrived to establish Jamestown 409 years ago.

The Center for Western Priorities also opposes the Bishop bill, calling it an “extreme and deceptive attack” on public lands nationwide and “another ideological vehicle for Congressman Bishop to express his disdain for national public lands, rather than a true attempt at addressing diverse stakeholder needs”:

Rep. Bishop stated recently that “people will win and people will lose” in his bill. There’s no doubt that the winners Bishop picked are big oil and gas companies and Utah’s misguided public lands policy, while the losers include hikers, campers, sportsmen and women, Native American tribes, and the American people.

Interior Secretary Watt proposed in 1981 that by the year 2000, 80 million more acres of public land would be opened up to mining and drilling. He sought to end congressionally authorized national parks. He opposed the government’s accepting of land bought for that purpose by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He sought to open up wilderness to oil and gas development. He boasted, “We will mine more, drill more, cut more timber.” And, indeed, in his short time in office, he increased coal leases on public land fivefold.

Rob Bishop is his political soulmate.

About the Author

Meteor Blades is a writer and contributing editor at DailyKos. He believes there is something profoundly wrong with our system. - the unchecked accumulation of wealth and power into the hands of a very small group of corporate business interests has contributed to the wholesale corruption of our political system. For an understanding about the level of corruption in our country, he encourages you to view these two PBS documentaries: (1). ,The Untouchables; (2) The United States of ALEC.
  • Gary Mathis

    Give it all away. The federal government should own no land. Period.

  • flowerchild1963

    common sense in this country, and some others as well, is on the decline. if the no-to-everything-logical, know-nothing group is anointed, the world is going to decline even faster than it has been doing. greed rules.