Federal land ownership in the United States continues to grow despite the federal government already owning more than half of most of the western states. While some have been advocating for the return of this land to the states or protect it from being closed off from oil and gas operations, the Obama Administration has worked just as hard to increase the federal government’s land grab. Contrast: As President Bush’s second term as president was coming to an end, 4 million acres of land in Alaska was released by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for drilling and exploration. Seven years later, President Obama has proposed to set aside 12 million acres in Alaska, designating it as “wilderness” and off-limits to up to 42 billion barrels of oil.
Most recently, the Obama administration has proposed the largest critical habitat designation ever, setting aside 226 million acres of ocean off Alaska’s coastline (an area twice the size of California) to protect the Arctic ringed seals who were listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2012 after environmental activists petitioned the Obama administration.
Even though NOAA says that oil and gas activities have occurred in areas with protected species in the past, designating these Alaskan waters as a critical habitat would mean that all oil and gas activity would have to be evaluated based on how much it would impact ringed seals. Alaska’s outer continental shelf is considered to be one of the world’s largest untapped oil and gas reserves boasting as much as 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Other federal lands expansion that slipped into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would add 250,000 acres of new wilderness in western states and put thousands more acres off limits to drilling and mining in states.
In 2011, the U.S. Forest Service originally tried to ban fracking in the 1 million acre George Washington National Forest, but failed. It would have been the first outright ban on the practice in a national forest.
Much of the land targeted for government takeover holds great oil and natural gas resources which could provide jobs in the energy industry and a flow of resources from our own American supply. Once those lands become “monuments,” access to those natural resources is limited and in the hands of the federal government. The government currently owns 650 million acres, or 29 percent of the nation’s total land.
The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 and the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA). The Omnibus bill was passed with over 100 land grab measures. The NREPA included federal takeover of nearly 24 million acres of land in the American west and northwest; however, NREPA never made it out of the House subcommittee.
The ability of the White House to simply snatch land from under the feet of the American people comes from the Antiquities Act of 1906. The Act was initially intended to set aside small portions of land for monuments and national parks, but has since been abused by lawmakers to control large quantities of property. Federal government land control and land acquisition takes away opportunities for development, particularly when it comes to much needed energy resources. The land designated as “monument” space could have created jobs, boosted the economy and enhanced our energy security.