Monday, April 20, 2015

Conservation Is No Longer a Conservative Value

GOP tough guy – Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt – was a kick-ass, turn of the 20th century President. A corporate reformer and advocate of American intervention in global conflicts (a militarist who said, “Speak softly but carry a big stick”), Roosevelt took “conservation” as a fundamental conservative value. “Roosevelt has… been deemed the country's first environmentalist president. In 1906, he signed the National Monuments Act, protecting sites like the Grand Canyon and preserving countless wildlife sanctuaries, national forests and federal game reserves. He also made headway with the nation’s infrastructure, instigating 21 federal irrigation projects.”
So Teddy must have been rolling in his grave at a late March non-binding Senate vote, split pretty much along party lines (guess which side the GOP was on) “51 to 49 to support an amendment to a nonbinding budget resolution to sell or give away all federal lands other than the national parks and monuments.
“If the measure is ever implemented, hundreds of millions of acres of national forests, rangelands, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas and historic sites will revert to the states or local governments or be auctioned off. These lands constitute much of what’s left of the nation’s natural and historical heritage.
“This was bad enough. But it followed a 228-to-119 vote in the House of Representatives approving another nonbinding resolution that said ‘the federal estate is far too large’ and voiced support for reducing it and ‘giving states and localities more control over the resources within their boundaries.’ Doing so, the resolution added, ‘will lead to increased resource production and allow states and localities to take advantage of the benefits of increased economic activity.’
“The measures, supported only by the Republicans who control both houses, were symbolic. But they laid down a marker that America’s public lands, long held in trust by the government for its people, may soon be up for grabs.” Will Rogers (President of the Trust for Public Lands) writing an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times, April 2nd. So we might sell our legacy land-holdings for raw exploitation in this generation, to pay of the profligacy of this generation’s stupid, senseless and failed wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and idiotic deregulation that tanked our entire economy… and leave what to future generations? Are you as outraged by these votes as I am?
It seems that the GOP is bucking the populist tide on this one, reneging on their own conservationist roots, in order to cater to the pools of wealth – direct campaign contributions and slushy Super-Pacs – from business interests anxious to get their hands on all those natural resources for prices that are probably as low as they will ever be.
Rogers points out that most Americans want to treasure and keep those natural resources: “Land protection has long been an issue for which voters of both parties have found common cause. Since 1988, some $71.7 billion has been authorized to conserve land in more than 1,800 state and local elections in 43 states. Last year, $13.2 billion was approved by voters in 35 initiatives around the country — the most in a single year in the 27 years my organization has tracked these initiatives and, in some cases, led them… But this consensus is being ignored, and not just in the nation’s capital.
“In November, for instance, 4.2 million Florida voters approved a state constitutional amendment to provide $22 billion over the next 20 years for land and water protection. But some legislative leaders want to use the money mostly for programs other than the land protections voters expected.
“New Jersey voters also approved a constitutional amendment in November to dedicate corporate business tax revenue to preserve open space, farmland and historic places in the nation’s most densely populated state. Again, support was lopsided, with 65 percent of voters in favor. But Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, is now proposing to divert a quarter of the funds to purposes other than land acquisition and preservation.
“And in Maine, money approved by voters for a popular state program called Land for Maine’s Future is now caught up in a political tussle. The program was founded in 1987 to conserve land and has protected 560,000 acres. It has enjoyed wide support; in 2012, new bond financing was approved by 60 percent of voters casting a ballot. But Gov. Paul R. LePage, a Republican, is refusing to spend about $11 million unless his plan to increase timber harvesting on state-owned lands is approved.
“What’s often lost in these debates is that these public lands provide enormous economic benefits… In 2013, the country’s national parks, wildlife refuges, monuments and other public lands had an estimated 407 million visits, which contributed $41 billion to the economy and helped to support 355,000 jobs, according to a report by the Department of the Interior last year.
“It is difficult to understand the hostility of some elected officials these days to public lands, given the historical, bipartisan commitment to protecting our land and heritage. This summer, millions of Americans will get outdoors and enjoy these wise investments.” In the end, the massive money required to campaign in a world of unlimited political contributions to SuperPacs, the higher limits for direct campaign contributions, has slanted a once conservation-driven party to begin to thinking about selling off our heritage resources and lands to the highest bidder… and lose those assets for all time. Aside from the contribution to overall environmental damage, we would be betraying all the generations to follow by desecrating their rightful inheritance.
I’m Peter Dekom, and while there are just and reasonable compromises to be made to foster a reasonable commercial operation, what is being contemplated in the formerly hallowed halls of Congress is a betrayal of the worst kind.

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