Republicans propose selling off public lands to raise revenues. It may raise some, but that comes at a severe cost. (More)

We know that Republicans favor privatization of many programs and services provided by state governments and the federal government. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are the ones most mentioned. There is also an idea being floated about that selling public lands might be a good way to raise revenues. Of course we wouldn’t want to tax the rich or end the subsidies for oil companies when we could just sell off public lands.

What is Public Land?

Public Land includes any land owned by a city, county, state government or the federal government.

The majority of public lands in the United States are held in trust for the American people by the federal government and managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the United States National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, or the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Department of the Interior, or the United States Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture. Other federal agencies that manage public lands include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United States Department of Defense, which includes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In general, Congress must legislate the creation of new public lands, such as national parks; however, under the 1906 Antiquities Act, the President may designate new national monuments without congressional authorization.

For Sale?

As the song says, “This land is your land, this land is my land.” But Congress is responsible for the public lands and some are proposing to sell off parcels here and there. Here are some examples:

Think Progress quotes Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) as saying:

I got attacked in a previous town meeting for not supporting another national park in this country, a 200-mile trailway. And I told the man that we don’t need more national parks in this country, we need to actually sell off some of our national parks, and try and do what a normal family would do is – they wouldn’t ask Uncle Joe for a loan, they would sell their Cadillac, or they would take their kids out of private schools and put them into public schools to save to money instead of asking for their credit card to increase their debt ceiling.

This is not the first time Republican members of Congress have advocated selling off Americans’ public lands without clarifying how taxpayers would get a fair return for them. Last fall, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) proposed selling off 3.3 million acres of the public lands that belong to all of us. And former Rep. Richard Pombo proposed selling national parks to mining companies in 2005.

Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has a bill,

H.R. 1126, the “Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2011.” The radical proposal would force the government to sell off 3.3 million acres of public lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming to the highest bidder, without specifying how American taxpayers would receive a fair compensation for them.

Chaffetz’s bill is included in the House Republican budget, “The Path to Prosperity” or, as Democrats are calling it, “The Path to Poverty.”

Here is Rick Santorum: “We need to get it back into the hands of the states and even to the private sector. And we can make money doing it, we can make money doing it by selling it. So I believe that this is critically important.”

Mitt Romney, who likes to sing “America the Beautiful,” also said:

I don’t know the reason that the federal government owns such a large share of Nevada. And when I was in Utah at the Olympics there I heard a similar refrain there. What they were concerned about was that the government would step in and say, “We’re taking this” – which by the way has extraordinary coal reserves – “and we’re not going to let you develop these coal reserves.” I mean, it drove the people nuts. Unless there’s a valid, and legitimate, and compelling governmental purpose, I don’t know why the government owns so much of this land. So I haven’t studied it, what the purpose is of the land, so I don’t want to say, “Oh, I’m about to hand it over.” But where government ownership of land is designed to satisfy, let’s say, the most extreme environmentalists, from keeping a population from developing their coal, their gold, their other resources for the benefit of the state, I would find that to be unacceptable.

On Friday, Mar 23, the Governor of Utah signed a bill “that demands the federal government relinquish control of public lands in Utah by 2014.”

At the core of the issue is limited access to about 28 million acres of federal land, which hurts energy development, recreation and grazing. State lawmakers claim the federal lands cost the state millions of dollars every year, although no comprehensive studies have been done to quantify those losses.

There are questions about the constitutionality of the bill which will undoubtedly be challenged in court.

What Do the People Think?

Think Progress Green has a great headline: “Astonishing New Poll: 91 Percent Of Western Voters Say Protecting Public Lands Is ‘Essential’ To The Economy”

And one of the things that were most interesting about this survey is the degree to which Democrats, Republicans and Independents in the West really share some common values when it comes to public lands and their importance, both to their quality of life and to the economy. What we found was that roughly 9 out of 10 westerners, regardless of party affiliation, believe that public lands in their state play an important role, not just in their quality of life, but as a driver of their economy. And to see that kind of agreement and unanimity across party lines reflects a pretty unique issue in the current political environment.

The results of this bi-partisan poll stand in stark contrast to the dozens of attacks on our air, water, and lands perpetrated by our recently-dubbed “most anti-environmental House [of Representatives] in the history of Congress.”

The Department of the Interior says that their activities “support over 2 million jobs” and generated “approximately $363 billion in economic activity for 2010.”

To sell off public lands would be like eating the seed corn. Part of this is the Libertarian fever to not have anything publicly owned and part of it is the Tea Party desire to raise revenues without either raising taxes or ending subsidies to big oil. Thus far, an overwhelming majority of people oppose selling off public lands. I fear that the provision in Ryan’s budget might go unnoticed.

Republicans Have Changed:

Here is Theodore Roosevelt:

Defenders of the short-sighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying the ‘the game belongs to the people.’ So it does; and not merely to the people now alive, but to the unborn people. The ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ applies to the number within the womb of time, compared to which those now alive form but an insignificant fraction. Our duty to the whole, including the unborn generations, bids us restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations. The movement for the conservation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method.