By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
During a stop in Elko, Nevada last week, presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) said that he opposes the federal ownership of any public lands. After stating that he wanted to disband the U.S. Department of Interior (which manages 500 million acres of surface land including nearly 400 national parks), he responded to a question about a travel management plan in a national forest by stating:
Paul: I want as much federal land to be turned over to the state as possible—the regulatory approach to tell people how to do and what to say. So I was essentially other than the other members of Congress from this state — I very early on opposed the dumping of nuclear waste in Nevada, so I want the state to make a decision—
Questioner: This plan pertains to using ATVs and things like that on federal land.
Paul: Well, I’d be opposed to that. I don’t want the federal government dictating to Nevada, period. I’d rather see the land owned and controlled by the states.
This is not the first time Paul has called for public lands to be turned over to states or private entities. In October he told the Western Republican Leadership Conference that public lands “should be returned to the states and then for the best parts sold off to private owners.”
The existence of public lands managed by the federal government is actually provided for in the Property Clause of the Constitution which states: “Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States, and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.”
Our federal public lands are important assets for many reasons. Interior Department lands alone provided $363 billion in economic activity in 2010, some of which goes to states and counties. Indeed federal lands in Nevada pumped $1 billion into the state’s economy in 2010.
Additionally, public lands are managed for the public good. They are owned by every single American, and are places we all can go to picnic, hike, fish, and get outside with our families. They also provide important benefits like clean air and clean water.
Perhaps most importantly, public lands are protected so they can be enjoyed for future generations. Just imagine what the Grand Canyon would have been like if mining interests and the Arizona Territory had had their way in 1903 and mined it rather than preserved it.