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GUEST COLUMN: A threat to economic opportunity

By: Will Coggin
December 21, 2014 Updated: December 21, 2014 at 4:15 am
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Imagine a country where the man in charge could, by the stroke of a pen, ban certain use of public lands by citizens. Sound undemocratic? Amazingly, this power is afforded to the president. And if President Barack Obama's allies get their way, soon parts of Colorado and the West will be locked away.

The Obama administration recently held hearings on designating part of Browns Canyon a national monument - essentially curtailing its commercial use in a number of ways. Under an arcane provision in the 1906 Antiquities Act, a president can declare areas of land to be national monuments on his own accord. And radical environmentalists, who spent millions to see Obama re-elected, are salivating at the prospect of declaring swaths of the West national monuments.

Declaring an area a "national monument" sounds good, but it's a process that can be abused. By declaring an area a national monument - in some cases millions of acres - it will prevent the land from being used for energy development such as natural gas production, which will reduce energy costs for families and reduce our dependence on foreign energy. For green activists, however, conventional energy production is anathema, and a "national monument" fiat allows them to bypass the legislative process to ban production in an area.

And in the case of Browns Canyon, environmentalists are being especially sneaky by cloaking their appearance.

The Montana-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers was quick to voice support for the proposed executive fiat. In fact, a consortium of groups claiming to represent sportsmen has a campaign pushing for the monument designation, including the DC-based Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited.

It gives the appearance of moderate or conservative-leaning support for what is essentially a federal government land grab. But the backing for these groups comes from far-left environmentalists.

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers gets almost all of its money from just three sources, including the multibillion-dollar Hewlett Foundation - a San Francisco-based outfit that funds environmental groups trying to ban affordable energy development across the United States. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, meanwhile, has taken money from Big Labor and anti-gun sources, while Trout Unlimited's national office has taken tens of millions from anti-energy environmentalists.

Their real agenda in Browns Canyon and elsewhere is to stop access to public lands and particularly the development of affordable energy - namely natural gas - on public lands. Green groups know their brands have a certain stigma - political liberals who like trees more than people - so they now have surrogates with camo hats.

Ironically, the "sportsmen" groups pushing to lock off public lands from energy development are dodging an inconvenient truth about energy production. While they claim to be all about preserving pristine land, their preferred methods of energy production on public lands - wind and solar - take up far more land to produce the same amount of energy as natural gas. A recent analysis from the U.K. determined that a wind farm needs 700 times more land to produce the same energy as a natural gas site. (A solar site would "only" take 450 times more land than a shale gas pad.)

It's pretty simple why activists like the "national monument" route: Executive action by a friendly president is certainly more convenient than trying to convince voters. For instance, a fracking ban in Loveland failed in June. For green groups hell-bent on an agenda, democracy should be jettisoned when it's a barrier.

Obama has used the "national monument" fiat 13 times, and the rule has been abused in the past as well. In 1996, Bill Clinton declared an area in Utah the size of Delaware and Rhode Island to be a monument - while the state's governor only learned about the ploy in a newspaper a mere nine days before the declaration.

The 1906 Antiquities Act provision certainly has uses. Devil's Tower, Indian ruins, and the Statue of Liberty are obvious examples of national monuments. Preservation is certainly important.

But an obvious monument shouldn't require fiat. Outgoing Sen. Mark Udall couldn't get a bill through Congress designating Browns Canyon a national monument, so now the White House is bypassing democracy in favor of fiat.

Locking up thousands or millions or acres serves the agenda of out-of-state activists, but not those who have to live with it.

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Will Coggin is a senior research analyst at the Environmental Policy Alliance.

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