Great Outdoors Initiative a federal land grab?
posted at 3:00 pm on August 14, 2010 by Ed Morrissey
The Boss Emeritus takes a look at a little-noticed Obama administration proposal called the Great Outdoors Initiative, a program that claims to look for the most meaningful land to Americans — and have the federal government seize it. Washington already controls one in every three acres of American land, and the increased reach creates more cost and less opportunity for American prosperity and industry:
In April, President Obama issued a memorandum outlining his “21st century strategy for America’s great outdoors.” It was addressed to the Interior Secretary, the Agriculture Secretary, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency and the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. The memo calls on the officials to conduct “listening and learning sessions” with the public to “identify the places that mean the most to Americans, and leverage the support of the Federal Government” to “protect” outdoor spaces. Eighteen of 25 planned sessions have already been held. But there’s much more to the agenda than simply “reconnecting Americans to nature.”
The federal government, as the memo boasted, is the nation’s “largest land manager.” It already owns roughly one of every three acres in the United States. This is apparently not enough. At a “listening session” in New Hampshire last week, government bureaucrats trained their sights on millions of private forest land throughout the New England region. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack crusaded for “the need for additional attention to the Land and Water Conservation Fund — and the need to promptly support full funding of that fund.”
Property owners have every reason to be worried. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a pet project of green radicals, who want the decades-old government slush fund for buying up private lands to be freed from congressional appropriations oversight. It’s paid for primarily with receipts from the government’s offshore oil and gas leases. Both Senate and House Democrats have included $900 million in full LWCF funding, not subject to congressional approval, in their energy/BP oil spill legislative packages. The Democrats have also included a provision in these packages that would require the federal government to take over energy permitting in state waters, which provoked an outcry from Texas state officials, who sent a letter of protest to Capitol Hill last month:
“In light of federal failures, it is incomprehensible that the United States Congress is entertaining proposals that expand federal authority over oil and gas drilling in state water and lands long regulated by states… Given the track record, putting the federal government in charge of energy production on state land and waters not only breaks years of successful precedent and threatens the 10th Amendment to the United Sates Constitution, but it also undermines common sense and threatens the environmental and economy security of our state’s citizens.”
In light of federal budget deficits, perhaps Washington should be looking to unload some of its real estate rather than expand its ownership of it. California has at least broached the idea of selling its public holdings in order to reduce costs and raise funds to balance its severely dysfunctional budget. Instead of Great Outdoors Initiatives and federal expansion of jurisdiction and control, we need a more modest approach to governance and a return to state and local control of resources and assets.
Be sure to read it all, but it also reminded me of a lighter moment. In the classic comedy Blazing Saddles, Hedley LaMarr (Harvey Korman) had the concept well in mind: