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Romney To Nevadans: I Don’t Know ‘What The Purpose Is’ Of Public Lands (Hint: They Pump $1 Billion Into the State Economy)

By Public Lands Team  

"Romney To Nevadans: I Don’t Know ‘What The Purpose Is’ Of Public Lands (Hint: They Pump $1 Billion Into the State Economy)"

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By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney likes to sing about America the beautiful, but he mainly seems interested in mining it.

In an interview with the editorial board of the Reno Gazette-Journal last night, Mitt Romney expressed his ignorance of why the United States owns and manages approximately 80 percent of Nevada‘s land, most of it uninhabitable mountains and desert.  In response to a question about whether he would sell public lands back to the state, Romney stated that that “I haven’t studied it, what the purpose is of the land”:

I don’t know the reason that the federal government owns such a large share of Nevada.  And when I was in Utah at the Olympics there I heard a similar refrain there.  What they were concerned about was that the government would step in and say, “We’re taking this” — which by the way has extraordinary coal reserves — “and we’re not going to let you develop these coal reserves.”  I mean, it drove the people nuts.  Unless there’s a valid, and legitimate, and compelling governmental purpose, I don’t know why the government owns so much of this land.

So I haven’t studied it, what the purpose is of the land, so I don’t want to say, “Oh, I’m about to hand it over.” But where government ownership of land is designed to satisfy, let’s say, the most extreme environmentalists, from keeping a population from developing their coal, their gold, their other resources for the benefit of the state, I would find that to be unacceptable.

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Romney’s statement stands in stark contrast to the conservative tradition of knowing the value of protecting the lands that belong to all of us places for future generations. Teddy Roosevelt, the great Republican conservationist, once said, “Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.”

Public lands in Nevada – and other western states—actually provide an enormous economic boost and sustain hundreds of thousands of jobs.  Indeed, recent Interior Department statistics show that federally managed public lands in Nevada provided over $1 billion in economic impacts and supported 13,311 jobs in 2010 (and this statistic doesn’t even include the economic impacts of Forest Service lands, managed by the Department of Agriculture).  Recreation, energy and minerals, and grazing and timber all play a part in the economic effects that public lands provide to Nevada.  Activities like skiing at Lake Tahoe, boating at Lake Mead, and hiking at Great Basin National Park all take place on public lands.

Even Romney himself once mentioned on the campaign trail that when on vacations with his family when he was young “we went from national park to national park.  And they [my parents] were teaching me to fall in love with America.”

He might want to have a better answer about the purpose and value of public lands before he arrives in Colorado tomorrow.  A recent poll from the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project found that 93 percent of Colorado voters agreed that “Our national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are an essential part of Colorado’s economy.”

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