Was anyone surprised that on the day after the presidential election, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar (more on him in a minute) issued a final plan to take 1.6 million acres of public land off the table for oil shale development? I wasn’t.
After all, why would we want to produce domestic energy and create thousands of jobs when there are wind turbines to build, successful Americans to punish, and carbon taxes to levy? And you can bet the worst is yet to come.
Out here in the colonies (see map, where federal lands are depicted in red), where the government owns most of our land and treats us like vassals of the state (you’re next, friends), we’re used to this kind of thing. Most Americans — and probably a large percentage of fine Ricochet members — have no idea how different things are in the west from the rest of the country. Our president is not the president, but actually the Secretary of Interior, who controls our land, our water, our air, and our economy. Secretary Salazar is our unelected federal overlord. He runs 88% of Nevada, 68% of Utah, 67% of Alaska, 65% of Idaho, 56% of Oregon, 50% of Wyoming, 44% of Arizona, 39% of Colorado, 36% of New Mexico, 33% of Washington, 32% of Montana, and much, much more.
He’s a Democratic hack from Colorado, a strutting bantam rooster who attempts to show he’s from the sagebrush hood by wearing unshaped cowboy hats straight from the box that look like bottle caps on his bean and bolo ties that appear to have been purchased from a Flying J truck stop on I-80. He is as authentic as John Kerry in a Carhartt jacket saying, “I need to buy me a huntin’ license!” Salazar fools no one except the media. Plus, he has anger management issues. He may be the biggest landlord in the world, as well as the most ideological. Which leads to an idea I’ve been mulling over for months that, if implemented, would solve many of our current problems and make everybody happy (except, perhaps, Secretary Salazar). After all, if us losers can’t offer big ideas for the future, what is the point of soldiering on?
Simply: The U.S. government should sell off all federally owned land — except for national parks and monuments, defense facilities, and Indian reservations — to the highest bidder in a series of auctions. Proceeds of the sales would be used exclusively to pay down the deficit.
Currently, the government owns approximately 640,000 square miles contained in states west of the Mississippi, give or take a few thousand. That land contains forests, deserts, high plains, mountains, coal, oil, gas, etc. I can only guess how many trillions it would bring in.
I don’t care if the purchasers are locals, corporations, foreigners, or even the states themselves, or whether the new owners develop, exploit, or preserve the land. That’s up to them. I wouldn’t mind owning a few acres in Alaska (244,627 square miles of public land to choose from) myself.
Not only would this massive sale benefit all Americans and right the fiscal ship, it would fix a wrong that has gone on too long with very little comment. What is the legal or moral reason for the federal government to own so much of our land? It’s not the case in the rest of the country. Plus, we desperately need the money.
The new owners of former federal land would create new enterprises, grow the overall economy, and compete to hire the unemployed. Forests would likely thrive instead of burn every summer. Energy would be produced. Beautiful vistas would be managed and appreciated instead of being left to go to seed.
Granted, some new owners would be bad neighbors and bad actors. But in my experience, the best stewards of land are landowners, not absentee bureaucrats with fuzzy-headed ideas and no skin in the game.
As a sop to those who would instinctively object to this proposal, I’d suggest we carve out a small slice of the payments to guarantee contraception to all 30-year-old Georgetown law students in perpetuity — since they’ve revealed themselves to be such a cheap date anyway.
Who is with me?