By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Congressional Republicans and presidential candidates have suggested a variety of options for dealing with our country’s budget woes, such as slashing Medicare, reducing federal spending to 1966 levels, and drilling everywhere. Today, the House Natural Resources Committee used much of a hearing on designating wilderness areas to discuss another radical proposal: selling off 3.3 million acres of lands that belong to all Americans without clarifying how taxpayers would receive a fair return for them.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), is a Tea Party favorite who voted against the debt ceiling compromise bill because it “cuts too little in FY 2012.” His “Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2011” would force the Interior Department to sell 3.3 million acres of lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming to the highest bidder. Chaffetz justified his bill at the hearing today saying:
It is neither logical nor responsible for the federal government to own or manage surplus lands.
Chaffetz has led the charge against America’s public estate, including a cosponsorship of a bill to remove protections from 60 million acres of wilderness-quality lands to give access to corporate interests.
He made the determination of which acres to include in his land sale bill based on a government report from 1997, even though there are updated estimates available in various “resource management plans” issued by the government. As Mike Pool, the witness from the Interior Department stated today, the bill “would be unlikely to generate revenue.”
Selling off federal lands is an antiquated and radical policy option that has been debated since President Teddy Roosevelt first started setting aside lands for future generations to enjoy. More recently, the 1970s and 1980s gave life to the Sagebrush Rebellion in which a handful of westerners sought to sell and transfer the public’s land to state and private interests. As independent California television station KCET put it:
Every 10 to 15 years or so, western politicians have used the national forests and parks as anvils on which to hammer out their anti-Washington anxieties.
Politicians who choose to focus on only the face value of public lands are ignoring an incredibly important economic engine in the West — the conservation economy made up of the men and women who work in recreation, restoration, and renewable energy development. Additionally, public lands, such as national parks, national forests, wilderness areas, and national historic sites, have far more value than just what the acreage is worth. Protected areas provide clean air and clean water at no cost at all to the American taxpayer — as just one example, the clean water flowing from national forests has been valued at $7.2 billion every year.