America, each state, the public lands were given back to the states after they were chartered. But in the West, starting with Teddy Roosevelt who had the big ideas of big forests and big national parks, they held that land. And so the next chart shows you the effect on us in the West. Just understand this is the education. The red is of course bad. We’re starved in the West for education funds because of policies that Mitt Romney sat and listened to Rob Bishop and myself explain when it came to Hobbs. He knows that if we want to reverse the trend, we’ll reverse this trend of public ownership of lands starving education.The excuse for having the states take over public land is always that the resources are better understood at the local level and can be better used if they are in the hands of local officials and not the supposedly jackbooted federal bureaucrats.
But did you catch Pearce's actual message? Ultimately, this is not just about taking public land out of the hands of officials at the Bureau of Land Management or Department of Agriculture and turning over its management to the states. It's about making the states a conduit for selling public land to private parties.
This isn't a new idea. It emerged in earnest with the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion in the 1970s and morphed into the Wise Use movement in the '80s and '90s. Condensed to its essentials, it combines laissez faire capitalism with a romanticized version of the Old West as foundation for an argument in favor of turning over tens of millions of acres of federally owned land to the states and to private ownership.
Most recently, the backers of this effort, like Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican, have openly called for selling huge swaths of federal land. Introduced last year, his bill, HR 1126, would mandate the auctioning of 3.3 million acres in 10 Western states. That's not the end goal; that's just to get their feet wet. The Utah legislature passed a bill this year demanding that the federal government surrender 30 million acres to the state. The governor signed it.
Romney and Pearce and all the others back an extremist approach that would smash more than a century of effort to protect public land. Pearce makes it clear in the disdainful tone with which he discusses Teddy Roosevelt's role in all this.
In the mildest version of their extremism, everything but National Parks, wildlife refuges and designated Wilderness Areas would be opened to energy and other development when the land wasn't sold outright. Underfunded, understaffed state regulators would soon be overwhelmed by pressure for project approvals from energy giants and others with legislative clout at the state level. Given the added corporate influence that will soon become apparent at the state level as a consequence of funding made possible by Super PACS, it is not hard to imagine what those public lands will look like if these guys get their way.
At The New York Times, Timothy Egan wrote in September:
The great, unfenced public domain, much of it forested or hidebound in sage and mesquite, is the envy of the rest of the world only because a few visionary souls bucked the powers of their day. [...]Improvements can and should be made in the manner federal land is governed. But the best way to achieve that is by taking into account the wants and needs of all Americans who seek to use and to protect public land, not to sell it to the highest bidder. But that's the goal of these Teddy Roosevelt haters. Contrary to the Woodie Guthrie song, in their view, from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf stream waters, this land was made for them alone.
As for state control—why should anyone think a governor here in Salt Lake City would be any less of a steward than someone in a federal uniform?
Here's why: The states, of course, are cash-strapped, and want these lands only so they can industrialize them quickly, with minimal regulations. If you want to know what our public lands would be like under states in the pocket of oil companies, just look at the closing days of George W. Bush's presidency, when drillers pressed to scar up land near some of the most iconic national parks and monuments in the Southwest. Only a change in administrations, and lawsuits that back the people's right to manage the lands properly, stopped them in their tracks.