Presidents tend to choose like-minded leaders for important government jobs. Generally true, but not always.
In some cases, presidents appoint experts who will have the brass to stand up to the boss on controversial issues. A counterpoint view often serves the presidency well, and in so doing serves the country.
President Trump seems to have taken a contrarian’s path, filling key executive positions with people who think like he thinks. One media outlet called this habit creating an “echo chamber” of leaders, in which the views come from appointees echoing the views of their leader.
That seems to have been the case with the Trump administration’s appointing a man who has espoused the wholesale selling off of public lands to be chief of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Foxes guarding henhouses is a inherently flawed concept, and in this case could possibly result in vast stretches of land now under public ownership being sold to private companies, which as a general rule will result in fences going up around the land, complete with no-trespassing signs and industry.
New BLM head William Pendley is a proponent of the notion that the nation’s Founding Fathers, authors of the U.S. Constitution, intended to sell off most of the country’s federally-owned land. Pendley also has accused environmental groups of blocking ranchers and miners from profiting off publicly-owned range and forest lands.
All of which compelled the Wilderness Society conservation advocacy group’s spokesman to say he fears the administration is preparing to “liquidate” the nation’s public lands, then begin extracting and selling the resources.
There is a lot on the table. Public lands measure close to 250 billion acres of rangeland and wilderness. The mineral rights included could yield staggering profits for an array of industries.
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Pendley has authored books accusing federal agencies and environmentalist groups of “tyranny” and “waging war on the West.” He argued in a 2016 National Review article that the “Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold.” He has also referred to the process of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, as “an energy, economic and environmental miracle.”
The BLM job is huge. The agency manages one of every 10 acres of total land area in the United States, and those acres contain about a third of the nation’s mineral reserves. From a business standpoint, miners and drillers must be salivating at the prospect of having a friend at the top of the agency bureaucracy.
Pendley’s ascension comes at the same time the BLM is planning to decentralize, closing its Washington, D.C., headquarters and disbursing staff to several western states.
Draining the swamp, as candidate Trump promised? More like moving it to different locations, and by extrapolation, weakening an important federal oversight function.
The BLM is a typically ponderous arm of the federal bureaucracy, and its heavy-handed approach is well known along the Central Coast. But one has to wonder how selling public land to private companies will benefit the overall population, or how mining and oil-drilling operations will improve and/or enhance the public-land vistas we currently enjoy.
We’d like to hear from readers about this paradigm shift in federal land-management policy. Is ceding public lands to private industry, bringing in more jobs, a good thing for Central Coast residents? Or do you have a sense of loss with such movement from public to private ownership?
At last count, just more than 52 percent of land in California is owned by the public. What will its future be?