Rob Bishop Thinks Our Public Lands Are Worthless

Americans were outraged this week when House Republicans voted in secret to approve a rules change that would have prevented the independent Office of Congressional Ethics from investigating allegations of criminal behavior, allowed partisans to quietly shut down any ethics investigation, and barred disclosures of all this to the press.

Giving away our public lands

What the public did not know was that the 43-page package of technical-seeming rule changes was filled with other, far more damaging things that clearly show why Republicans are so anxious to shut down the ethics office. Leading the pack of outrages was a provision written by Utah Representative Rob Bishop saying that transferring ownership of public lands belonging to all Americans “shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending or increasing outlays.” What that means in English is that politicians like Mr. Bishop want it to be a matter of federal policy that there is no cost whatsoever to giving away our public lands for free—our national parks and monuments, national forests, wildlife refuges, and all the rest.

Permanent costs

Under current government accounting rules, if public lands are transferred to a state, local government, or tribe, at least the loss in mineral royalties that pay for our state road systems, or grazing fees, or timber sale receipts, has to be recorded on the federal cash flow ledger. The permanent cost of losing public access to the Wasatch Mountains, or Delicate Arch, or Lake Powell, or of "no trespassing" signs on the hunting and fishing areas in the Book Cliffs is not calculated, perhaps because such losses are incalculable. 

But even this meager accounting is too much for Rob Bishop and his caucus. He wants a complete giveaway of our common wealth, our miraculous gift of 640 million acres of American lands, so he waves a magic wand in a secret midnight document and all of that public inheritance is declared worthless, a bothersome detail to be gotten rid of at no cost.  

In reality, this would bankrupt Utah

Let that hypocrisy sink in for a moment…Utah’s politicians can hardly wait to get their hands on our lands. Focusing only on possible revenues and forgetting the costs now shared by all Americans, they routinely and wrongly claim that our schools would have billions and billions in funding if only the state owned the public lands. In reality, of course, this would bankrupt Utah until the lands were sold to private interests. For a preview of how that would go, recall the recent state land auction during which wealthy ranchers, local historical groups, and well-heeled environmentalists were all effortlessly outbid, for parcels crucial to their interests, by a shadowy private corporation.  

That’s the way it is in the many states where there is hardly any public land: the land is private, so opportunities for common folk to go four-wheeling, rock hounding, hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting are nonexistent by our standards. And because private lands routinely cost more in government services than they pay in taxes, local taxes are vastly higher than in the public lands states of the West. Rob Bishop and his allies know all this, but they count the energy companies among their main donors, so expecting them to look out for the public is like asking the alligators to drain the swamp.

If you live in, or love, the West because of the public lands, you are going to have to speak up in their defense in 2017. The ethics office scandal temporarily delayed a vote on the package of rule changes, but Rob Bishop’s language is still in there, and it will be voted on soon. 

By:  Bill Hedden, Executive Director
Source: Grand Canyon Trust