Friday, February 26, 2016

Land Grab Scam: How Ted Cruz May Have Found One Issue that Can Unite Both Parties.. Against Him

by Nomad

It's a rare and beautiful thing when the American people come together, forget their differences and agree on something.
GOP candidate Ted Cruz may have stumbled on that very issue. It's too bad for him that a study shows bipartisan public opinion, (including Independents) is overwhelmingly against him.

Under the Hammer

As loyal Nomadic Politics readers know, we have lately had a couple of posts (here and here) on Senator Ted Cruz and his support for a state-level Koch-brothers' initiative to force the federal government to turn over federally-protected lands, including national parks.
Well, it mainly operates at a state-level but as we have seen there are some Congressmen in Washington who are in on the scam.

To summarize (as far as humanly possible), it's part of a three-step arrangement that would also entail states taking on the financial burdens for expensive public land maintenance that they clearly cannot afford. The reason for that somewhat bizarre idea is to justify the auctioning off of protected land to the highest bidder.

But there's some bad news in store for Ted Cruz.

Remarkably, if a recent study is any indication, Cruz and his puppet-masters may run into a massive problem.
A recent national survey conducted by Penn State researchers found overwhelming bipartisan support for parks and recreation.
That 2015 study found that Americans who described themselves as Republicans, Democrats and independents were nearly identical in their use of park and recreation services, their opinions of the benefits provided by these services, and their willingness to pay for them.
If you think about it, in these divisive times, finding any subject that both parties could agree with is something of a miracle. But Ted Cruz seems to have located one.

Moreover, the study found the percentages overwhelming in their support for the national park system. A full 80 % of all Americans believed they and their communities benefited from parks and recreation.
Pennsylvania State University Associate professor of recreation, park, and tourism management and lead investigator, Andrew Mowen said:
"In an age of political divisiveness, agreement or consensus on any issue can be difficult to find. Yet, our findings speak to the important place that local parks occupy in the minds of Americans, regardless of their political affiliation."
But there were other surprises too. 
Seventy percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Democrats and 80 percent Independents believed that the services of the national park system were worth the cost to the taxpayers. That boils down to about $70 per household in local taxes.
Said Mowen.
"Despite differing political views, the American public seems united in both their appreciation and use of local park and recreation services.This study demonstrates widespread support for local park and recreation services across the political spectrum."
Professor emeritus at Penn State, Geoffrey Godbey was a lead investigator from an earlier 1991 study and contributor to the 2015 study.
He was taken aback by the results too.
"Republicans want small government and low taxes, the narrative goes, and Democrats want more government services and will accept higher taxes."
So conventional wisdom would suggest that the chasm between the two parties would also be played out when it came to the national park system. 
Not so. Republicans, Democrats, and independents expressed similar levels of support for local taxes spent on this governmental service.
Researchers also found that 71 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Democrats, and 73 percent of independents reported using local parks, playgrounds and open space in their community.

The Transfer of Public Lands Act, first passed in Utah, has yet to be challenged in court on its dubious constitutionality. That law, passed in 2012, would give the state the right to sue the federal government in order to claim the public land. Other Western states have proposed similar legislation. 
One hitch, the Constitution gives states no such power to claim federal land by local legislation. Only Congress has the right.  

While campaigning in Nevada, Republican candidate Cruz attacked front-runner Donald Trump on his position on the issue of public lands. 
Laughably too, since Trump had no position and seemed genuinely mystified about what Cruz could be referring to. Cruz's ads slammed Trump,
"Eighty-five percent of Nevada is owned and regulated by the federal government. And Donald Trump wants to keep big government in charge. That’s ridiculous."
Cruz has his reasons for using the term "public lands." It is, like most of what Cruz says, calculated and deceptive. Those lands include national parks, national forests, and national monuments, and they belong to all Americans.
He might choose to label it a government land-grab but in fact, it is much more of a corporate land grab. 

Making Things Clearer

Before we get into that, we need to look at those numbers. The Atlantic Monthly recently put the figures into the proper perspective.
In most of the Northeast and South, where the only federal presence is the occasional military base or national park, complaints that the government owns too much land seem laughable.
However, in another region of the nation, it's a very different story.
But out west, the government lays claim to huge, state-sized swaths of land—more than 630 million acres, greater than the landmass of Texas, California, Florida and New York combined. In some states, government agencies are the biggest landowner; in Nevada, 80 percent of land is federally owned.
At first glance, those seem like staggering figures. But that's only half of the picture.
Yes, the federal government does own a lot of land, but owning is the wrong way of looking at it. It is much more of a custodian and protector of the land for the public.

Furthermore, just because the land is under federal control doesn't necessarily mean it is entirely off-limits. Public lands are in fact, are enormous economic generators—the Department of the Interior stimulated $385 billion in economic development and more than 2 million jobs in 2011 alone.
The mission of the BLM is "to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations."

Overseeing 264 million acres of public lands, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allows the considerate use of the land but for a fee. Ranchers hold nearly 18,000 permits and leases for livestock grazing on 155 million acres (630,000 km2) of BLM public lands.

For people who think that the government is somehow limiting commercial development for states, keep in mind that there are more than 63,000 oil and gas wells on BLM public lands.
In fact, approximately $5.4 billion in 2013 was generated by energy leases. This windfall was divided among the Treasury, the states, and Native American groups.

An Important Piece of the Puzzle

If oil companies are presently allowed to operate then why should oil companies be working so hard to open up national parks? 
The answer might be because these leases do come with strings attached. You cannot trash the land, you have to respect the wildlife and the other resources according to federal standards. 

Therein is the problem, perhaps the key truth behind the scam. 
The BLM is required to comply with the provisions of the Clean Water Act. The federal Clean Water Act regulates the treatment and discharge of shale gas wastewater into surface water bodies. Water is critical to integral to shale gas extraction or hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

Under the Act, fracking facilities must obtain permits if they intend to discharge shale gas wastewater or any of its by-products into a surface water body. These permits contain limitations on pollutants that may be discharged in the wastewater.
This wastewater must be carefully managed and checked by independent oversight at a federal level. 
Because, according to National Resources Defense Council, this by-product contains...
potentially harmful pollutants, including salts, organic hydrocarbons (sometimes referred to simply as oil and grease), inorganic and organic additives, and naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM). These pollutants can be dangerous if they are released into the environment or if people are exposed to them. They can be toxic to humans and aquatic life, radioactive, or corrosive. They can damage ecosystem health by depleting oxygen or causing algal blooms, or they can interact with disinfectants at drinking water plants to form cancer-causing chemicals.
As another source confirms:
The safe disposal of liquid wastes associated with oil and gas production in the United States is a major challenge given their large volumes and typically high levels of contaminants.
However, all those challenges apparently disappear if the federal land became public property. The federal Clean Water standards for frackers would magically vanish. 

Or, at best, become a matter for individual states. Studies have shown that state corruption is much more pervasive than at a federal level. so that's a win-win situation for would-be exploiters of public land. 

ALEC on the State Level

Selling off public lands would provide no such protection and once privatized, the public lands will probably be lost to future generations forever.
It's an incalculable loss for the American public.

So it is no great shock then that the Koch brothers- along with others in the fracking industry- have invested a lot of time and money in promoting this issue and offering huge campaign contributions to people like Ted Cruz.

The effort is determined too. ThinkProgress offers us this link:
ALEC and Americans for Prosperity have been fanning the fire under these efforts to “reclaim” federal public lands. ALEC is a conservative corporate front group funded by fossil-fuel interests such as the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil that develops model legislation for state legislators to introduce in their legislatures, and it has endorsed many of the bills turning public lands over to the states. As the Associated Press reported, “Lawmakers in Utah and Arizona have said the legislation is endorsed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that advocates conservative ideals, and they expect it to eventually be introduced in other Western states.”
For some people, auctioning off large tracts of land would be a bonanza, unprecedented in American history. So clearly it is worth the long term and comprehensive effort.
In its mission to overcome wastewater regulations regarding fracking, ALEC isn't just active in Western states.  In these cases, the effort has been attempting to hide the chemicals used in the process. 
*   *   * 
Another point Cruz fails to mention in his anti-Trump ads about these federally-protected areas.
At one time, the BLM started out managing land that nobody really wanted (as well as protecting lands that were too precious not to be shared with every American.)
For the average citizen, not an oil man or rancher, that's pretty much true today.
But after mapping federal holdings to county populations, it becomes clear the majority of government land is remote and unpopulated, far from even most rural residents.
Nobody is being driven off their land. Nobody is being deprived of anything, except corporations the right to pollute and destroy the pristine land.

The Regional Issue Disparity

There's another reason why Cruz's scheme will fail and could lead to political damage for the Republicans. 
Until the details of the scam are more widely known, this issue might play very well in Western states. (Even that is debatable. The Cliven standoff and the Oregon occupation has generally met with nationwide disgust.) 

The bottom line is that this is a regional issue and Congressmen in Western states will never be able to successfully pass such radical changes to the national park system without the full support of Congress. If the Supreme Court is involved, the matter could be dead in the water however Congress votes. 
In other words, it is probably a lost cause,  especially with such a large percentage of citizens from both parties rejecting any changes to the national park system.

This is probably the real reason why Cruz had to slip his legislative tinkering in so surreptitiously a couple of years back. 
As I wrote in an earlier blog post, Cruz had proposed changes to a bipartisan bill, the Sportsman Act of 2014. That draft bill was supposed to make public lands more accessible to sportsmen.
However, Cruz's changes would have "forced the federal government to sell off a significant portion of the country’s most prized lands in the West." 
It had to be done "on the down-low" when nobody was actually looking because it was so controversial. The public- whom Cruz was supposed to represent- would never have approved.

There's no way that Cruz- or anybody else hired by the Koch brothers -could ever get a consensus on this issue. 
According to the Congressional Research Service, the US government might own nearly half of the land in 11 Western states but that's not the case in the rest of the country. In those states, the percentage of federally held land is far less, closer to 4 %.
Regardless of the sincerity or validity of protests in Western states, this issue is very unlikely to find any wide support any other place.

According to this information from the Atlantic Monthly and the Penn study, attempting to push any changes to the present system (as Cruz has already tried to do) could result in an unheard of bipartisan outrage by the American people who love their national parks and want to keep them free from tampering by special interests.
*   *   *
Earlier this month, a collective of associations and Native American individuals delivered a statement of concern to the Colorado BLM. The letter state that the effects of the fracking boom have been enormous and always adverse.

The letter mentions the Native American fears of contamination of underground water.
In addition, they expressed deep concern about the destruction of their ancient sacred sites which are presently being protected by the federal government.
When we go near these old ruins we do so with respect. Our elders tell us not to pick up artifacts and children are told to be quiet and not to play on the ruins because the "Old Ones" are still present there.
The land was sacred in every sense.
We believe it would be unwise to continue allowing extractive industries to take any more fossil fuels from Federal Land. When and if these sacred places are returned to Native People, we would like them not to be ruined.
The planet for us mortals is a rental property and must be treated with respect.
Our children both native and non-native, will inherit this earth together. Our collective future is not mutually exclusive and we believe that we are all related. We borrow this Earth for our grandchildren and it would be tantamount to child neglect to ruin this land for short-term financial gain.
Despite what Cruz and the shady people who pull his strings might think, the American people, both Republican, and Democrat, overwhelmingly agree with the Native People.