Opinion: Republicans Mislead on Public Lands

arch 660After licking his wounds for a few months, former Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is picking up right where he left off, by misleading Americans about the Obama administration’s energy and public lands policies.

Most blatantly, Ryan this week wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the Obama administration is “buying up land to prevent further development” of energy resources. “Our budget opens these lands to development, so families will have affordable energy,” he added, playing to the lowest common denominator of his conservative base as if he were still campaigning for office.

Ryan’s simplistic and false statement about the connection between public lands and energy costs is flat-out wrong. Domestic energy production has grown under Obama; the administration has been leasing land for onshore production and selling offshore leases at a vigorous rate.

Ryan would be hard-pressed to find a single example of this, or any other administration, buying land specifically to block energy production. The federal government has a very limited budget for land acquisition. Most purchases target small parcels that are already surrounded by public land, improving access to trails or for some other similarly specific purpose. Suggesting that federal agencies are buying land to block energy development is preposterous — the statement serves only to inflame public opinion based on falsehoods.

It’s also pretty clear that some energy development has shifted from public to private lands, not because of any policies the block energy development, but because that’s where the fossil fuels are.

And while Ryan claims that the the proposed GOP budget “puts the country on the path to North American energy independence” by approving the Keystone XL pipeline, the truth is that Obama’s push for renewable energy is the real path toward long-term energy independence.

The proposed GOP budget once again includes a pet project of radical right-wing western Republicans — selling off millions of acres of public lands to help reduce the deficit. This pie-in-the-sky plan most recently surfaced last November, when Reps. Rob Bishop (R-Utah)  and Stephen Pearce (R-Ariz) said that such sales could ease federal budget woes.

The congressmen went on to specifically identify the Green River formation, repeating the myth that the area could yield more than one trillion barrels of recoverable oil shale, “nearly four times the reserves of Saudi Arabia,” claiming that the area has been placed off limits by the Obama administration.

Of course the real idea is to enable unbridled development on those lands, including real estate speculation and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, including oil drilling in Alaska and oil shale development in Colorado.

Ryan’s budget ideas are a retread of a campaign platform that was soundly rejected by voters last November. Most westerners outside the radical fringe know better the value of our public resources.

Environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit www.patagonia.com. In affiliation with Summit County Voice. Photo by Shutterstock

{ 12 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Matt

    I can accept Bob’s assertion that most westerners “outside the radical fringe” are pretty in tune with the value of public resources but there is a radical fringe on both side of the political aisle. The “drill baby drill” crowd sits at one end and the radical environmental “tree huggers” occupy the other. Neither fringe, I am afraid, has the ability to see past their own narrow interests.

    Mr. Ryan’s budget outline represents a consensus view of the majority party in the House, representative of roughly half of American voters. I would not refer to that point of view as “soundly rejected” in the main. Credit the house for at least passing a budget – which should be seen as a starting point for negotiations with the Senate and Administration. If only there were more of that ability to compromise for the public good these days.

    While it is true that “Domestic energy production has grown under Obama”, virtually all of that growth has come from oil and gas development on private lands, not public lands. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that, but the Feds own a tremendous amount of the western USA and for good and less good reasons are keeping tight restrictions on many potential uses.

    Many on the left and the right feel it’s time to examine those restrictions in light of the financial impact and benefits of that ownership. 26% of all land in the US is held by the federal government and in some western states, Utah, Alaska, Idaho and Nevada, federal ownership exceeds 60%. In Oregon, where I live, logging restrictions on public land have severely impacted the economies of many local communities for decades now. The feds used to pay counties for the land they owned and controlled – in lieu of property taxes derived from private land ownership – but over the past few years the feds have virtually stopped making those payments. Local governments – lacking an urban tax base – are closing schools and prisons as a result, paring back sharply on public safety and basically slashing service levels as a result. Would it make sense to at least consider the value of opening up some of the least sensitive federal land to private ownership?

    Are logging and mining and fossil fuel production the wave of the future? Hell no, and I am not suggesting that public policy be anywhere close to “all in” on it, I support conservation, alternative energy and strong environmental protections, however I do believe there needs to be an open-minded debate about the role of public lands in America and the impact federal ownership of so much land has on our western state and citizens.

  • Kirk

    More BS propaganda from AJ. Why don’t you report the truth instead of pushing their agenda. The increase in domestic drilling was almost entirely in areas for which the Obama administration exercised no authority, as oil production on federal land declined by 11 percent in fiscal year 2011, according to a study by the Institute on Energy Research (IER), a free-market energy think tank. But oil production on state lands increased that year by 14 percent and increased by 12 percent on private lands.

  • Lost A Reader

    This is the typical lefty language that oozes out of their government fed mouths. This article is inaccurate in so many ways and has cited absolutely no real evidence of any of these claims. I hope Patagonia is paying you well because I have a feeling more readers than myself will be leaving. Maybe you’re hoping to be the MSNBC of adventure blogs; no readers but highly regarded by the fringe left? I hear Keith Olbermann is looking for a job (and went outside once or twice).

    Good luck.

    Lost A. Reader

    BTW, you might want to consider renaming your site. How about propaganda-journal.com? indoctrination-wilderness.com? If you can’t figure it out I’m sure there’s a government grant that would help pay for the needed research.

  • Caitlin

    Very sad to see AG go on a partisan political rant with an article full of questionable fact and opinion. I thought this site was better than stuff like this!!

  • Steve-O

    I live in rural southern Utah, and every day I thank Chluthu that 97% of my county is federal land. And anyone who thinks energy development, grazing, logging and mining pay any significant royalties to fund public land administration or local tax bases just plain hasn’t investigated enough.

    First off, I’ve got to say that tax avoidance is a way of life in conservative states, particularly rural redneck areas like the (beautiful) one I live in. Cash-only is the norm, not the exception. And even more ironically, many of my very conservative, fed hating neighbors spend large amounts of every year on unemployment, or welfare, not because they’re out of a job, but because they use sparse population as an excuse, and they can get away with it.

    Along similar lines, grazing and logging, in particular, have been the rural West’s version of welfare industries for more than a century. I came from an Iowa ranching family, and I cannot believe the inefficiency, not to mention foolishness, of trying to play cowboy in the Four Corners region. Perhaps that’s why Hawaii and Florida, each, account for more beef than all public land ranching combined.

    PILT payments (federal payments in lieu of taxes) actually continue apace, but just try getting most county commissioners to give you the figures. In my county, our tiny 200-person town is the economic engine of the area, and that’s entirely due to wilderness- and park-oriented tourism. Meanwhile, our county commissioners -where the sales taxes go- keep trying to turn the clock back to some mythic logger/rancher past that never existed. The dry Rocky Mountain forests are poorly suited to timber production because regrowth rates are slow. And the day they breed sheep and cattle that eat sand, grazing in southern Utah will actually be profitable.

    Currently, the only way desert ranching works as a ‘business’ is via tax breaks, far-below-cost grazing leases, and virtually free water rights so that ranchers can drown alfalfa eight months a year in order to get three cuttings on one of the most water intensive, lowest-value forage plants you could possibly imagine. All the municipal and industrial water uses in the West (including Las Vegas) only account for about 15% of water consumption. The rest is spray irrigation, most of it for alfalfa. In the arid west, logging and ranching make absolutely no sense and never have, aside from Hollywood movies and John Wayne mythology.

    Now drilling, anything, anywhere, is being touted as an economic boon, despite the obvious boom/bust nature that leaves towns like Vernal, Utah and Evanston, Wyoming critically depressed every time the labor-intensive exploration phase shifts to automated pumping. Natural gas wells have a very steep production fall-off, and NG production is already dropping despite a profound uptick in rig count over the last decade. The private land drilling statistics are distorted by Marcellus shale developments in Pennsylvania, one of the longest-settled states in North America, and many of those private landowners never owned the mineral rights, so the rigs are often unwelcome intruders on the property they occupy. And around here, the ever-proliferating drill rigs and Halliburton trucks are operated primarily by people with Gulf Coast accents, making the lies about local job creation rather obvious.

    In my studied 40-year history of living smack in the middle of federal public land, I’ve found that it’s not a liability at all. It’s an asset, and one that’s becoming more valuable all the time. But time and again, I’ve found the arguments for privatizing and developing federal land don’t hold up to actual scrutiny, despite the fact that they sound good in dogmatic speeches and thundering editorials.

  • Allan W

    KEPT a reader!!
    too bad the right leaners have such a narrow view of the political spins…

    lighten Up–it is an OPINION given here, and backed up with facts;
    hopefully you have not gravitated to a travel and adventure site just to read
    other peoples comments–whether pro or con to your own
    I’m here for the views as well as the reads.

  • Dave M

    Nice photo, sad rants from both sides. Leave mud slinging to the politicians. Name calling and finger pointing should not replace discussion of ideas and opinions. Lets work on solutions not who’s at fault.

  • tyrone.sweetlick

    I remember watching a debate at my university between my school and an Irish school. My school’s team clearly had a better grasp of the topic on an objective level and were better prepared. The Irish team had wit, charm, and a better understanding of the audience. They trounced the home team based on the popular vote.

    Berwyn made an effort to reduce the convenience of the selective numbers Ryan was using. Berwyn cited quotes, individuals, and specific bills. You may not agree with Berwyn’s conclusions, but that doesn’t mean Ryan is correct in his claims. Get over yourselves. These issues are anything but black and white.

    When you’re trying to dispell a politician’s claims, it’s difficult to satisfy the naysayers’ purported desire for facts when they are really swayed by the style.

    Sometimes adventure is all about the inside instead of the outside forces.

    Nice job, Steve-O.

  • Mike

    The 2012 BLM grazing fee was $1.35/AUM. Grazing leases on private lands, and even some State-owned lands, in the west START at $17/AUM. When the BLM tried to effactuate a modest fee increase (doubling) a few years ago, the right-leaning ranching community bacame just as emotionally hysterical as their left wing counterparts, reciting the same old tiresome blather of economic ruin! and federal land grab!
    Why does the far right insist that the feds sell off public lands to reduce the deficit, but don’t dare whisper a word about raising grazing fees to help reduce the deficit?
    Because it doesn’t pencil out. God forbid we desecrate that sacred cow.
    I used to be tolerant of the romantic bullshit, now I just find it offensive.

  • Eric

    The saddest part of our country these days is the second you mention anything to do with either politics or the government, the ‘liberal Left’ and the ‘conservative Right’ instantly get tossed around. Whatever happened to the level headed Middle, who can see both points from both sides and work towards a semi agreeable compromise? I guess the term common ground will never be uttered again.
    Objectivity? Nice knowing you……

  • Brian

    I think this is a very important issue, as all land use issues are, but definitely not something that bumper sticker slogans and platitutes will solve. If you’re going to have a serious discussion about this it usually doesn’t help when you’re title is ‘Republicans Mislead on Public Lands’ and you refer to ‘radical right wingers’, especially when the only example in this article I can see of being mislead, is Mr Berwyns assertion that “Domestic energy production has grown under Obama; the administration has been leasing land for onshore production and selling offshore leases at a vigorous rate.”
    Domestic energy has grown on private lands, with private funds. And selling offshore leases? They are now letting companies bid on leases but that is where the process ends, you need a permit to even explore on the lease and then more permitting to start production, this has all but grinded to a halt. What is kind of ironic is that in the last few years oil produced in Bakken or Permian (WTI) has been trading at a $10-$20 discount to the oil that the rest of the world consumes (Brent), the fact that energy is cheaper here is the main reason why US Manufacturing is making a comeback. You know, all those nice Made in USA segments we see on this site recently (but only manufacturing that appeals to your adventure lifestyle right A-J? wink wink), but the nice folks at Patagonia who funded this opinion piece still make all their clothing in Vietnam and charge you $250 for a hooded parka. But I guess we can only take them at their word that its because they want to bring environmental sustainability to Vietnam, and it’s not because if they tried to do it here they would find the regulations to be too prohibitive to make a few bucks.

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