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Eye on the Environment: More drilling and mining on public lands

Teddy Roosevelt judged as “noteworthy in its essential democracy” that portions of the country’s most scenic and important natural areas be preserved through placing them under public ownership and management.
Thus, they would be administered for the benefit and enjoyment of the people as a whole, “with the sense [of being] the property of Uncle Sam and therefore of all of us.”
He had seen forests razed to an extent that timber famine would be on the horizon, were logging not better controlled. So much land had been degraded, he said, that “shortsighted men, in greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things.”
Preservation efforts had been ineffective because the states, he held, given widespread differences in their laws and “uncertainty of enforcement, either cannot or will not excercise a sufficient control” to prevent abuse and damage to the land.
He therefore set aside, in national forests, wildlife refuges and other preserves, close to a third of the lands now in the public domain at the federal level.
Each American today is a privileged owner of more than two acres of this public estate.
Administered by federal agencies and allowing a participatory voice in management decisions to the citizenry, it provides a multitude of commodity and recreation benefits while being protected from pollution, wildlife losses and other damage.
Management under national laws and guidance, Roosevelt declared, is “the only way that the people as a whole can secure to themselves and to their children the enjoyment in perpetuity” of these, public-lands resources.
This vision and century-old practice of federal control over uses of government land could be about to change.
As the New York Times and other sources have reported, in the energy plan by the GOP aspirant to the White House, decision power for energy extraction, especially oil and gas drilling and coal mining, is proposed to be returned to the states.
The industries involved complain of the federal permitting process being too slow and expect approval of projects, directly through state or local officials, to be more efficient.
As reported, the plan was developed “in consultation with industry executives” (who, coincidentally, gave “nearly $10 million toward the Romney election effort” that very week).
Are we re-visiting the early part of the last decade, when a secret energy task force of industry executives developed a national energy policy in the White House?
Did not that policy promote a great expansion in energy use and production, open up vast areas of public lands to mining, and rescind numerous environmental-protection rules, such as the requirement for buffer areas along streams, one example?
Did it not, in fast-tracking permit procedures, limit or abolish citizen-input rights and the requirement, under national law, to protect wildlife?
This approach did not bring us closer to the claimed motive of energy self-sufficiency. Instead, it keeps us addicted to diminishing fossil fuels, at the high cost of damage to our public-lands estate.