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Up Next on the GOP’s To-Do List: Selling US National Forests

A conservation group held a mock auction of the Grand Canyon to prove the absurdity of selling our protected national lands – now a possibility.

Selling off public lands to satiate corporate interests? Another innovation brought to you by the US Oligarchy. (Photo: Deforestation via Shutterstock)

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To prove a point, a conservation group held a mock auction for ownership of the Grand Canyon back in February. At the time, they were trying to provide an example of what would happen to public land if Congress stripped the president’s authority to identify and protect national monuments. While this scenario may seem a bit extreme at the outset, it could actually happen soon with public land – including national forests like Yellowstone, along with many others.

Several parties have drawn up a proposal for the House GOP budget resolution that calls for the seizure and sale of US national forests and public land. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, believes that control over US public lands should be transferred to the state level. The real kicker is that he demands $50 million in taxpayer funds – yes, you’ll be the one paying for it – to jumpstart these property transfers. This way, they can be done “immediately.” All of this was proposed in a recent memo addressed to the House Budget Committee, explained by none other than Senator Bishop.

The memo claims that public lands “create a burden for the surrounding states and communities,” and his “solution is to convey land without strings to state, local and tribal governments.”

Back in reality, this proposal is very bad news, not only for the US people, but also for the properties involved in the deal. It’s probable that affected regions would see higher taxes for locals, in addition to the sale of these properties to private parties just to cover associated costs. This would, in turn, make the land vulnerable to drilling and mining projects, which would certainly result in it being destroyed and defaced. We’re not talking about prime urban real estate or barren land here – we’re talking about prized national forests and parks.

Without a doubt, proposals like this check all the wrong boxes: They’re generally expensive, don’t go over well with citizens and last – but certainly not least – are unconstitional. Of course, those kinds of considerations haven’t stopped politicians in the past, and they don’t appear to be putting a damper on Bishop’s plan, either. There’s a good chance that this proposal will be included in the House GOP budget.

Various right-wing politicians and public interest groups invested time and money lobbying for plans like this. For instance, the American Lands Council (ALC) – an organization founded by Representative Ken Ivory (R) of Utah state – hired a lobbyist, Michael Swenson, last year to “educate congressional lawmakers on the benefits of relinquishing federal lands to the states.” Evidence of this can be found on disclosure forms, which clearly state that ALC paid Swenson $150,000 for three months of lobbying. Why does Swenson even matter, you ask? Swenson has been tied to various clients with interest in this segment, particularly a Utah mining company. Of course, Swenson later claimed in an interview with the E&E Daily that the disclosure was a simple “mistake,” and that he’d only been paid $20,000.

What this all means is that we – as US citizens and residents – should be highly concerned about the 2016 budget resolution that has just been released, and by a House Republican majority, no less. The Washington Post called their budget “a gimmick,” while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, during a call to “The Diane Rehm Show,” said it resembles “Robin Hood in reverse.”

Should this proposal actually succeed, it will cost taxpayers a great deal of money. To make matters worse, it could potentially open up our country even more to private and commercial parties.

Selling off public lands to satiate corporate interests? Another innovation brought to you by our American Oligarchy.