First, in the spirit of the season, let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the way liberals and conservatives view public lands in the western United States…
Liberals tend to prefer greater restrictions and regulations on public lands when it comes to resource development and energy extraction. Without them, they believe the public lands will be decimated. They will consider closures of some federally owned lands, even if there is energy potential, because they believe the damage to the resource is too great to risk. And lately, they’ve claimed that the effects of climate change require the government to move away from fossil fuels. Liberals are fast moving toward an amenities economy across the West that preserves its natural beauty and they fear that resource extraction will damage the success of a “New West” economy.
Conservatives are more likely to support energy development on public lands in the West because they believe the growing demand for resources requires that development. They also believe that layers of federal regulations stymie growth and create unneeded roadblocks to economic gains. They point to the last ten years, the ‘fracking revolution,’ and the subsequent fall of energy prices worldwide to support their claim. They note that, ironically, cheaper energy prices have especially been a boon to the tourism economy. They also believe that an expanded oil and gas industry not only creates more jobs but better paying ones as well. They point to the fact that tourist-based economies in rural communities have resulted in exorbitant home prices and low paying jobs.
Ok…so those are the two best-case prevailing points of view.
Jump to 2016. Environmentalists and Progressives supported a massive Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah.
Conservatives strongly opposed the monument and believed it is an overreach of the federal government and the president’s authority.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell came to Utah to hear both sides of the issue. But PLEASE…let’s be honest. No one thought Jewell would come down on the side of monument opponents. And as the presidential election approached and almost all the pundits were predicting a Hillary landslide of “historic proportions,” Bears Ears National Monument felt like a foregone conclusion. President Obama would make the proclamation, President Clinton would implement it.
Then November 8 happened.
Knowing that a Trump administration would be taking office in January and had already expressed its specific opposition to the monument, would Obama create the monument anyway?
He did. On December 28, the proclamation decreed a 1.35 million acre Bears Ears National Monument.
When the Trump administration later announced it would rescind or reduce the size of the monument, progressive environmentalists were outraged. How could President Trump cancel or modify the wishes of a previous administration? Fury and outrage prevailed.
Seriously? Go back eight years.
In the last month before President-elect Obama was to take office, the Bush administration announced plans to proceed with more than 100 oil and gas lease sales on BLM lands near Moab, Utah and Arches National Park. The LA TImes reported that the BLM was “deflecting accusations by environmental groups that (Bush) was handing a ‘parting gift’ to the energy industry before the Obama administration takes over.”
It further reported that:
“The disclosure of the auction several days later sparked complaints that the Bush administration was trying to rush the leases before leaving office. The co-chair of President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, John Podesta, said the new administration may try to reverse the sales.”
And Stephen Block, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance complained, “This is the cementing of the Bush administration legacy in Utah...That’s their parting gift to the industry and the American public to conduct this at the last minute.”
It was, in fact, at one of these lease auctions that environmental activist Tim DeChristopher bid on proposed oil leases with no intent to pay and later served time in federal prison for his actions.
The Salt Lake Tribune noted that: ” DeChristopher won bids on 22,000 acres in Utah’s red rock country, near Arches and Canyonlands national parks.” Environmentalists had accused the Bush administration of trying to ram through the sale of the environmentally sensitive land before President Obama was sworn in.”
Later, in January 2009, as Obama took the oath, environmentalists without exception believed that the new administration should not be bound or conflicted by the “last minute” efforts of the previous administration to impose its will on the next and contrary to the stated environmental objectives of the new Interior Department.
And months later, as expected by everyone, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that, “Obama’s Interior Department eventually ruled that its predecessor had incorrectly administered the lease sale and yanked the parcels off the auction block.”
In 2008, Republicans were doing what they’re philosophically bound to do. In 2016. It was the Democrats playing the exact same strategy, with the shoe on the other foot.
The idea that there is a fundamental difference of opinion as to how public lands should be utilized is no secret. The fact that so many environmentalists are acting shocked and outraged is a tad silly. It reminds me of the scene in ‘Casablanca’ when Louie suddenly shuts down Rick’s Cafe.’
“I’m shocked. SHOCKED to learn there is gambling going on in this establishment!”
Whatever your personal preferences are, both sides are playing the same game.
Jim Stiles is Founder and Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.