When it comes to climate change, some politicians have a penchant for outrageous, headline-grabbing statements. “There isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows carbon dioxide is a harmful gas,” former Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) famously told the House of Representatives in 2009.
In recent months, however, the flair for the sensational has extended beyond climate, overtaking the rhetoric of some politicians who are eager to weaken protections for America’s parks, wildlife, and conservation laws. In a recent op-ed, for example, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), used the tragic death of a hiker in Utah as the basis for arguing that one of America’s most popular conservation programs be dismantled.
Congressman Bishop is not alone in his affinity for the melodramatic. Here are six other mind-boggling statements members of Congress have recently made in attempts to undermine the popularity and effectiveness of the laws protecting our lands, water, and wildlife.
Reintroducing wolves would solve the “homeless problem”
Rep. Don Young (R-AK), who is no stranger to controversial statements, often directs his ire to taxpayer-owned public lands.
In a recent rant against the Endangered Species Act and the protection of wolves, Young “mocked” 78 members of Congress who asked the Secretary of the Interior to protect gray wolves. Young — who has long fought protections for land and wildlife — claimed that their districts would benefit from releasing wolves in urban areas because “you wouldn’t have a homeless problem anymore.”
State control of national forests would mean fewer terrorists
Utah state representative Ken Ivory — who has had ethical questions raised against him for his efforts to seize and sell off America’s public lands — has used a potential threat of forest fires started by terrorists to claim the state and private ownership of our national forest, monuments, and other conservation lands would reduce the risk of terrorism. According to the Salt Lake Tribune:
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, said he was told by a terrorism expert that forests are now a terrorist target and argued that the fire risk would be reduced if they were managed by the states instead of the federal government.
In reality, a century of fire suppression, coupled with a warming climate, worsening drought, and longer fire seasons have increased the prevalence of mega fires in Western states. The federal government spends over $3 billion annually to help protect communities from wildfire, a sum that would bankrupt most Western states if national forests were transferred to state ownership.
Environmental protections enable “drug cartels and human smugglers”
The U.S.-Mexican border is a perennial target of anti-environmental members of Congress, and multiple bills have been introduced that would waive environmental protections on national parks, wilderness, and other public lands on both the northern and southern borders.
When introducing his most recent bill on the issue, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) stated that “For decades, drug cartels and human smugglers have exploited U.S. land management laws by crossing our borders illegally and harming Arizona’s national parks and protected areas.”
But officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection have testified that existing protections on America’s public lands do not restrict access or inhibit border security, and instead assert that a close working relationship with natural resource agencies “allows [them] to fulfill our border enforcement responsibilities while respecting and enhancing the environment.”
Drinking water protections will regulate “your grandmother’s bird bath”
A proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency to protect clean drinking water has also been a top target of anti-environment lawmakers and special interests. Detractors claim that the proposed drinking water protections would threaten private property rights and could “apply to every instance where a drop of water touches the earth.”
Last year, Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) called the proposal a “terrifying power grab,” where “common sense has gone out the window.” He went on to say that “the EPA’s new position seems to be that a puddle from your garden hose will ultimately end up in a navigable waterway, so the agency should have dominion over that water too.”
The Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity even went as far as asking, “will the EPA soon seek to regulate puddles on your property, baby pools, standing water in the local Wal-Mart parking lot, or your grandmother’s bird bath?”
However, the proposed clean water rule “does not protect any waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act,” and instead is intended to only “protect critical streams and wetlands that are currently vulnerable to pollution and destruction.”
Obama will “negotiate with Iran,” but not on Alaska oil drilling
Angered by the Obama administration’s work to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said that administration “is willing to negotiate with Iran, but they won’t negotiate with Alaska.”
In fact, the Obama Administration held extensive public meetings and gathered public input from Alaskans on how best to manage the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and is beginning the process for gathering input on whether and where to allow offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
What’s more, the administration’s initial plans for offshore drilling in Alaska would actually allow drilling on 92 percent of the Arctic waters off the state’s coast, notwithstanding Senator Murkowski’s claims that the proposal puts oil and gas resources off limits to development.
Obama is an “imperialist” or a monarch for conserving public lands
In response to the announcement that President Obama was planning to protect one of Colorado’s most popular rivers, Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) said of the President: “He is not king. No more acting like King Barack. That is not how we do things in the U.S.”
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), a former member of the House, called Obama an “imperial president” for expanding a national monument that protects critical areas of the Pacific Ocean. Yet 16 presidents, from both political parties, have protected incredible landscapes using their executive authority, including President George W. Bush.
Some of these same politicians are also fond of accusing the president of a government “land grab” when designating new national monuments, even though national monuments protect lands already owned by the federal government.
Jessica Goad is the advocacy director at the Center for Western Priorities. You can follow her on twitter at @Jessica_Goad. Claire Moser is the research and advocacy associate with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow her on twitter at @Claire_Moser.