Friday, February 03, 2017

Trump Cabinet picks offer hope for environmental progress

...Zinke, has been a strong advocate for American energy independence and has fought the Obama administration’s moves to limit coal, oil, and gas production on federal lands. Zinke comes from a region of the country in which the federal government owns much of the land and often imposes its will on state and local governments. He has seen firsthand how federal mismanagement of national forests, grasslands, and parks has led to environmental destruction, local economic decline, and wasted federal resources. 

Zinke readily acknowledges the reality of climate change, but argues the extent of human involvement in it is uncertain and the threat it poses has been overblown by President Barack Obama

Zinke has pushed for greater local, state, and tribal control over federal lands and resource decisions, such as timber management and fossil-fuel production, which is important because as interior secretary, Zinke will be in a prime position to reform federal land and wildlife policies in ways benefitting the environment and people. 

There are also some positions Zinke holds that are worthy of scrutiny. Zinke rejects the idea much of the land under federal ownership should be turned over to the states or the people therein, and he supports fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which the federal government uses to buy more land.

There is no constitutional justification for the federal government owning one-third of the land in the United States and more than half of the land in Western states, as it currently does, much less bringing more land and resources under federal ownership. Bad management decisions have been endemic to federal land and resource management agencies since their inception—which have occurred under both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations and under Democratic and Republican Congress. 

I hope with experience Zinke will come to recognize it is the institutional incentive structure stemming from federal ownership itself, not the personnel at the agencies, that is the source of the environmental and economic harm resulting from federal management. Devolution of federal land ownership is the only long-term solution to the environmental harm and economic malaise plaguing states in which the federal government controls a large percentage of the land.

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