Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Control of federal lands emerges as an issue in the GOP presidential race

If Ken Ivory could ask the Republican presidential hopefuls a question at their debate Wednesday night in Colorado, the state lawmaker from Utah would raise a subject that might seem arcane to much of the nation but no doubt would stir strong responses from the event's Western audience. First, Ivory would hold up a color-coded map showing the huge amount of land in the West — about 50% of the entire region, compared with a fraction of that in the East — owned by the federal government. Then Ivory would hit the candidates with his radical proposal: Why not transfer control of most of that land to the states, which could clear the way for more hunting and fishing, more oil wells and coal mines and tree harvests, with all the economic benefits that surely would follow? "Why shouldn't the federal government have to treat all the states equally?" said Ivory, himself a Republican, who has been pitching his plan around the country through an advocacy group he founded, the American Lands Council. "If they were really serious about a solution big enough to solve so many of the major issues that face our nation — economic, environmental, national security, energy — this is the only solution." Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are among those who have strongly endorsed the idea, but other Republican candidates also have signaled varying degrees of sympathy for conservative voters in Colorado and beyond who are frustrated by what many say are excessively restrictive federal policies on public lands in the West. It is hardly a new cry — and experts widely dismiss the notion as economically and environmentally implausible — but it appears to be getting louder. At least 10 states in recent years have approved legislation that tries to claim federal land or explore the possibility of doing so, helping prompt the Republican National Committee last year to draft a "resolution in support of Western states taking back public lands." Some Western Republicans, facing battles with the federal government over mining and water quality controls, have called for abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency. Last week, Jeb Bush, a relative moderate in the current Republican field, outlined a federal lands policy he said would direct federal agencies to allow states to determine, "consistent with law," land uses that are sustainable and locally compatible. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) released an energy policy this month pledging that his administration would "work with Congress to ensure that states and tribes — not the federal government — have the primary role in oversight of energy development within their borders." And Donald Trump, one of the GOP front-runners, has called for dismantling the EPA. "What they do is a disgrace," Trump told Fox News. "Every week they come out with new regulations. They're making it impossible." A report this week from the left-leaning Center for American Progress Action Fund found that seven GOP presidential candidates — Paul, Cruz, Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum — have expressed support for transferring or privatizing U.S. land and energy reserves...more

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