While stumping in Nevada last week Rand Paul once again indicated that if he becomes President he will sell off some of the national parks and public lands that are currently owned by all Americans. He tied this notion of private ownership to the nation’s development in the 1800’s when the government sale of lands in the West raised money to run the country. This was before we had other funding mechanisms and during a period when available land seemed unlimited.
Rand Paul will be in Michigan this weekend. I hope some courageous media person will ask him if he thinks that a state that spends millions inviting tourism should divest itself of those national parks and public lands that are key attractions, and should Pure Michigan become just a series of corn-dogged theme parks next to limestone quarries surrounded by fleets of hauling trucks that carry clear-cut lumber, oil, gas, and anything else that’s extractable.
We have five national parks here in Michigan, all of them historic tourist destinations, all of them essential to the character of our state and distinguishing it from others, all of them integral to our sense of who we are, and all of them frozen in the corporate cross-hairs looking like antlered trophies that will end up on the walls of private dens and board rooms.
Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Lisa Murkowski, and many others on the right are eager to see the federal government take these parks and lands off the books and hand them over to the states where their fates will be determined by the caprice of local politics and politicians, many of whom cannot bear the notion of any assets being held in common by we-the-people. (It was only a few months ago that Senator Murkowski [Alaska] introduced and got passed a non-binding resolution to do this very thing.) The conservatives want to rescind the forward-thinking Act of Teddy Roosevelt who dedicated over 230 million acres of open land to the public and started the U.S. Forest Service to manage it. It was to be there as a national expression of our respect for our land and regard for its natural resources.
The money driving the continuing privatization propaganda campaign and buying the votes of politicians comes from the usual suspects, most notably the Koch Brothers, who seem to have never seen a lakeshore or waterfall they didn’t want to plant an oil rig or fracking operation near. The Kochs and other fossil fuel interests have funded PERC, Property and Environment Research Center, a conservative group that has long advocated for privatizing public lands and parks ever since the days when economist Milton Friedman advised conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater to call for deregulating the energy, airline and telephone industries and “dismantling” the Social Security system and national parks.
PERC is relentless and has spent recent months once again pushing to give the states control of all public lands so they can be sold to the oil and gas industries and others who they claim have the wealth to operate and maintain them. It’s more ginning up of the “Sagebrush Rebellion Act” drafted by ALEC a couple of years ago when some of the conservative Western states were rabid for control of public lands. They make it sound like privatization was an act of sublime charity work for the states, relieving them of the costs of maintenance, but most Michiganders know how this movie ends. A year ago, Eclectablog put out a call to action, something we can expect to do over and over again as we maintain our vigilance over and stewardship of Michigan’s especially lush part of the planet.
Photo credit: Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog