DEMINT: White House land grab (Washington Times)
Wednesday March 3rd, 2010
You'd think the Obama administration is busy enough controlling the banks, insurance companies and automakers, but thanks to whistleblowers at the Department of the Interior, we now learn they're planning to increase their control over energy-rich land in the West.
A secret administration memo has surfaced revealing plans for the federal government to seize more than 10 million acres from Montana to New Mexico, halting job- creating activities like ranching, forestry, mining and energy development. Worse, this land grab would dry up tax revenue that's essential for funding schools, firehouses and community centers.
President Obama could enact the plans in this memo with just the stroke of a pen, without any input from the communities affected by it.
At a time when our national unemployment rate is 9.7 percent, it is unbelievable anyone would be looking to stop job-creating energy enterprises, yet that's exactly what's happening.
The document lists 14 properties that, according to the document, "might be good candidates" for Mr. Obama to nab through presidential proclamation. Apparently, Washington bureaucrats believe it's more important to preserve grass and rocks for birdwatchers and backpackers than to keep these local economies thriving.
Administration officials claim the document is merely the product of a brainstorming session, but anyone who reads this memo can see that it is a wish list for the environmentalist left. It discusses, in detail, what kinds of animal populations would benefit from limiting human activity in those areas.
The 21-page document, marked "Internal Draft-NOT FOR RELEASE," names 14 different lands Mr. Obama could completely close for development by unilaterally designating them as "monuments" under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
It says all kinds of animals would be better off by doing so, like the coyotes, badgers, grouse, chickens and lizards. But giving the chickens more room to roost is no reason for the government to override states' rights.
Rep. Robert Bishop, Utah Republican, made the memo public because he didn't want another unilateral land grab by the White House, like what happened under former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
Using the Antiquities Act, President Carter locked up more land than any other president had before him, taking more than 50 million acres in Alaska despite strong opposition from the state.
President Clinton used the authority 22 times to prohibit hunting, recreational vehicles, mining, forestry and even grazing in 5.9 million acres scattered around the country. The law allowed him to single-handedly create 19 new national monuments and expand three others without consulting anyone.
One of the monuments President Clinton created was the Grande Staircase-Escalante in Utah, where 135,000 acres of land were leased for oil and gas and about 65,000 barrels of oil were produced each year from five active wells. But, President Clinton put an end to developing those resources.
President Obama could do the same in other energy-rich places unless Congress takes action. At least 13.5 million acres are already on his Department of Interior's real estate shopping list.
This includes a 58,000-acre area in New Mexico. The memo said this should be done so the lesser prairie chicken and the sand dune lizard will be better protected. Are these animals going extinct? No. The bureaucrats wrote that the land should be locked up to "avoid the necessity of listing either of these species as threatened or endangered."
In Nevada, the Obama administration might make another monument in the Heart of the Great Basin because it, supposedly, is a "center of climate change scientific research."
In Colorado, the government is considering designating the Vermillion Basin as a monument because it is "currently under the threat of oil and gas development."
Americans should be wary of any plans a president has to seize land from the states without their consent. Any new plans to take away states' freedom to use land as they see fit must be stopped.
That's why I sponsored an amendment to block Mr. Obama from declaring any of the 14 lands listed in the memo as "monuments." Unfortunately, the Senate, led by Democrats, rejected it on Thursday evening by a vote of 58-38.
It was particularly disappointing that the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, voted against the amendment. The government owns more than 80 percent of the land in Nevada and the unemployment rate there is 12.8 percent. Surely it would help job prospects if more land were open for business.
This is a nationwide problem. The government currently owns 650 million acres, or 29 percent of the nation's total land.
Federal bureaucrats shouldn't be wasting time thinking up ways to acquire more, especially in the middle of a recession. Taking the nation's resources offline will stifle job creation and dry up tax revenues.
If anything, the government should be selling land off, not locking more up. By voting against my amendment, the Democrats tacitly endorsed Mr. Obama's secret plan to close off millions more acres to commerce.
If enacted, the plan would mean fewer jobs for Americans.
The Democratic Congress refused to stop it, but one sure way Americans could help block it is if they decide some Democrats should lose their jobs on November.
Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, is chairman of the U.S. Senate Steering Committee, a caucus of conservative senators.