The GOP: The True Environmental Stewards. Yes, Seriously.

Posted: Jul 26, 2011 10:40 AM

The federal government owns almost 30% of the surface area of the United States, but such a massive bureaucracy is a terrible steward when it comes to land management. As I've written before, the Bureau of Land Management (just one of the four major federal agencies in charge of public lands) alone estimates tens of billions of dollars of 'maintenance backlog', which is code for deferred projects that, while put on hold, usually contribute to environmental degradation. So, both fiscal hawks and conservationists should quite glad that Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is sponsoring a proposed bill to open up some 50 million acres of public land to development.

Now, hold your horses, environmentalists: 'development' in this context does not mean that the proposed law would allow big greedy corporations to snatch up the land, bulldoze the wilderness, and build condominiums and strip malls. Nobody in this debate wants to diminish the many natural beauties and habitats of the United States (me least of all!). The federal government can sell or lease land in trust - in other words, we'll allow you to come in and do A with this land, but on condition that you not do B. In this case, Rep. McCarthy wants to open up the land in question for responsible resource deveopment, healthy forest management, logging, grazing, etcetera, and it would create jobs to boot. The federal government as a whole has proven itself incapable of stewarding its lands on its own - for instance, lands left unlogged and ungrazed cause those catastrophic wildfires we're always hearing about. Contracting some private sector help with this responsibility is just a plain old commonsense idea. At least, it should be.

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt is blasting as "radical" a Republican proposal to open up more than 50 million acres of public lands to logging and other development.

Babbitt, who was Interior secretary for eight years under President Bill Clinton, says the GOP bill would virtually repeal the 1964 Wilderness Act and open an area the size of Wyoming to development.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., "is the most radical, overreaching attempt to dismantle the architecture of our public land laws that has been proposed in my lifetime," Babbitt said in testimony prepared for a House hearing on Tuesday.

"Simply put, it trades protection of wildlife habitat, clean water and clean air for corporate profits. It is nothing more than a giveaway of our great outdoors," Babbitt said.

Wrong. This bill is not about corporate profits, and its not even just about unemployment or reckless federal spending - this bill is good for the environment. Claims of GOP-profiteering and enviro-hating are born of either complete ignorance or pure political posturing.