March 29, 2012

Western States Tell Washington To Get Off Their Lawns

Investors Business Daily

Energy: Lawmakers in resource-rich Western states have had enough of Washington's meddling and are moving to take the federal grip off their lands. Their actions could positively impact gasoline prices.

It seems a new Sagebrush Rebellion is brewing. Last week, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed legislation that demands the federal government return 30 million acres to the state by 2014. National parks, military installations and Indian lands would not be part of the return.

Utah is out in front, but it is not alone. Lawmakers in the Arizona Senate have passed a bill similar to Utah's while the legislatures in Colorado, Idaho, Montana and New Mexico are reportedly following Salt Lake City's lead.

The movement is particularly relevant because in President Obama's feeble attempt to deflect blame for rising gasoline prices, he has repeatedly claimed that oil production has increased during his term. But what he has failed to mention is that the expansion has been on private lands. Production on federal land has fallen since he took office, due to his restrictive policies.

With Washington out of the way, the oil-rich states of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Montana can unlock their resources that have been trapped by Washington, which itself is captive to radical environmental interests.

The most recent Sagebrush Rebellion began in the 1970s when Western states tried to break Washington's tight control over public lands within their borders. While running for the White House in 1980, Ronald Reagan told supporters at a stop in Salt Lake City to "count me in as a rebel."

The rebels had a legitimate grievance. But the movement didn't net much. Washington still owns wide swaths of the West. (See map.) Among the Western states, only in Montana (29.9%) does the federal government own less than 30% of the land.

Today's rebellion through legislation might not fare much better, as Washington will likely ignore the Utah law as well as any others that might be passed and signed. At least until the courts order it to comply.

As unlikely as it seems, the Western states might have a case. Washington owns only small pieces of states east of the Rockies, while it owns big chunks of those to the west, and it has broken its promise to return land to the Western states as it has the others. The federal government has clearly discriminated against the Western states.

Even if the federal government only partially lost its land-baron status in the West, the states would ramp up their energy production on the tracts that would be back under their stewardship. That would mean economic growth, a spike in jobs and increased government revenue in those states.

It would mean relief at the pump, as well, as the markets would respond by lowering prices in anticipation of a growing supply.

Of course the bulk of the relief would be a few years away. But there are steps the administration could take now that would lower gasoline prices before summer.

The White House is handcuffed, however, just like most of the political class, by the always irrational environmentalist lobby.