President Obama’s wishes are as big as “all outdoors.” In fact, his latest is all outdoors. He wants to double spending next year on a fund to buy more land to add to the 635 million acres already locked up in federal ownership. He would do that even though there’s a multi-billion-dollar maintenance backlog on public lands now owned.
At a House hearing reported in McClatchy Newspapers April 3, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash), chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, declared: “Most people would say, ‘Let’s maintain what we have before we acquire more of it.’” At another recent hearing, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) reminded Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that agencies in charge of our public lands already have a huge backlog of repairs. Why acquire more land “when you have to cut the very funds you need to take care of your current infrastructure in order to do it?” she asked. The National Park Service has spotted 1.8 million added acres it wants to tuck under its wing at a cost of $1.9 billion. Park officials, however, realize that’s unrealistic with, what a spokesman told me, is a $10.8 billion maintenance backlog.
Maybe the president’s hankering for the outdoors means he’s suffering with a case of spring fever, or some more serious disorder that makes him want to keep spending, spending, spending when the country is more than $14 trillion in debt. He may have heard the EPA shout to remind us that April 22 is Earth Day, and that we all should have “green” outdoorsy plans to celebrate this historic event. Obama said April 3, too many Americans “can go for days without stepping on a single blade of grass.” It is not because of a dearth of public parklands though.
We already have 394 national park “units,” as the government terms them, ranging from historic sites to vast recreational areas—300 million acres altogether. The National Park Service is required to keep these parks in an “unimpaired state in perpetuity,” which they have been unable to do. We also have 155 National Forests covering 190 million acres—about the size of Texas. In addition, an uncountable number of state and local parks serve outdoor lovers. Americans visit their state or local parks more often than national parks, entertaining more than 760 million visitors in recent years. States acquired about 57 million acres of parkland in the same period, according to a report on parks by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
So, why are offensively wasteful plans being laid by the Interior Department? It put out a statement last year saying proudly, “As manager of one-fifth of the nation’s landmass and 1.7 billion acres offshore, the Department of Interior has the resources to help America produce more energy at home. Under the leadership of Secretary Ken Salazar, we are creating a new energy frontier…on our nation’s public lands.” And the aim is to buy still more land, to subsidize energy sources with only the most remote chance of serving citizens’ needs.
Secretary Salazar, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev)–seen by some as the three stooges–last July announced the site of a new Solar Zone in Nevada to demonstrate solar energy technologies, leading to “full-scale commercialization efforts.” This is not only political pork for Harry Reid, it also is unforgivable waste. The independent Energy Information Administration forecasts all renewable energy sources will make up only 10 percent of energy consumption by 2035. And solar will represent only a bare 2 percent of that 10 percent.
“The Nevada Test Site—formerly the site where nuclear tests were conducted from 1951 to 1992–is about to play a new role in securing America’s future,” said a statement from Salazar and Chu. What? Securing the future of the United States? Talk about hyperbole. [W]e will test new solar technologies that will help put America on a sustainable energy path,” said Secretary Chu. “Working closely with the Interior Department and Senator Reid, we will demonstrate technologies that will lower the cost of solar energy, accelerate the pace of innovation, and help build a clean energy economy.” Not in the judgment of unbiased forecasters.
Then Secretary Salazar took the stage with the announcement that “President Obama is committed to developing the nation’s new frontier. Our Bureau of Land Management, which oversees 23 million acres of Southwestern lands with solar potential, plays an important role…” Just imagine, 23 million acres covered with solar panels. More lovely a site than any national park could ever provide.
Then it was Harry Reid’s turn. “I am very pleased, but not surprised, that Nevada has been chosen as the site for this cutting-edge project.” It’s almost impossible to surprise a statesman as wise as Harry Reid. No one else is surprised either that this political pork would land in the state of the Senate majority leader. Harry continued: “I am working on additional policies in the Senate to enhance Nevada’s economy and create jobs through the production and export of clean renewable energy.” Export solar energy? Panels can be exported. But if the panels are exported, they would not stay in Nevada trying to create energy. And, Harry, energy can’t be exported. That would be an exceptional demonstration of legerdemain, because no one has invented tankers that can carry loads of electricity.
But when Harry talks, nothing he says shocks Americans anymore.