President’s lock-up of lands prevents their use

With the stroke of a pen, President Obama recently roped off nearly 1.8 million acres of Southern California desert. Urged on by environmentalist groups, the move is just the latest taken by the president in his attempt to lock away federal lands from productive use.

His authority comes from an obscure provision in the 1906 Antiquities Act that allows the president to classify large swaths of land as national monuments — without the consent of the House and Senate. With the monument designation, the federal government can restrict all sorts of activities including ranching, off-roading and energy production, without even considering the wishes of local communities. Perhaps even more egregiously, the president disregarded a legislative branch that has repeatedly opposed the monument designation.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California, first introduced legislation to designate three different areas as national monuments seven years ago, and the bill went nowhere. She tried to get it passed again during two subsequent congresses, and those efforts — again — went nowhere. After realizing there was little support for the measure outside of fringe environmental groups, Feinstein looked to President Obama to make it happen.

Obama granted her request, marking his 22nd use of the authority — more than any other president. The 1.8 million acres is his second largest designation, and it may be just the first of a barrage of “monument” declarations in Obama’s final year.

Following the monument designation announcement, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said “everybody is coming to me with their wish list,” referring to environmental extremists hoping to have their pet projects endorsed by the president.

The action supports Obama’s “keep it in the ground” stance on fossil fuels, which has led to a decrease of production on federal lands. So, while the country is in the midst of an energy revolution, the growth has come almost exclusively on state and private land. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, between 2009 and 2013, oil production increased by 61 percent on state and private lands, but actually dropped 6 percent on federal lands. Natural gas production rose by a third on state and private land during that same time period, but plummeted on federal lands by 28 percent.

Federal lands could provide a tremendous economic boon. A study by Dr. Timothy Considine, a professor of energy economics at the University of Wyoming, found opening federal lands could lead to $26.5 billion in annual gross regional product, more than $5 billion in tax revenue and more than 200,000 jobs in the Rocky Mountain region. But a small contingent of radical environmental groups blindly opposed to fossil fuels has convinced the president to lock up these resources.

And in an effort to drown out local opposition, left-wing activists have gone to extreme lengths to cloak their appearance.

A group called the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and a handful of other supposed hunter-advocate organizations recently released a report extolling the virtues of the Antiquities Act as a powerful conservation tool and praised Obama for his use of the powers.

In order to make up for lack of actual support among the American people for federal land grabs, environmental and left-wing foundations have dumped millions of dollars into so-called sportsmen, hunting and angling groups, using them to create a false grass-roots image behind the use — or abuse — of presidential powers.

As an example, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, one of the report’s supporters, receives the lion’s share of its funding not from grass-roots sportsmen but from the Western Conservation Foundation, which has also donated heavily to radical environmentalists at the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice (the “law firm of the environment”) — groups that oppose affordable energy development in favor of unreliable and expensive wind and solar energy.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, meanwhile, gets most of its money from environmentalists and Big Labor, according to tax records.

In 2010, leaked documents from the Obama administration identified more than a dozen sites covering 13 million acres as potential new targets for monument designation, and these three sites weren’t even among them.

As President Obama’s second term comes to an end, we can only expect to see more government land grabs — and there’s not much local communities can do to stop it unless Congress acts to roll back his overreaching presidential powers.

Will Coggin is the research director for the Environmental Policy Alliance, an advocacy organization.

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