The memo, marked “NOT FOR RELEASE” was recently leaked by an unnamed Interior Department insider and circulated by US Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT). It identifies fourteen specific tracts in nine western states which the administration could close off completely by designating them as federal monuments using a little-known federal statute known as the American Antiquities Act of 1906 (16 U.S.C. § 431, et seq.) —all without public comment or legislative action.
As Professor Richard Pipes, former director of the Russian Research Center at Harvard University puts it, “you can have tyranny with property, but you cannot have freedom and the rule of law without it.” The founders of our nation knew this, that private ownership of property—and private ownership of land in particular—is the bulwark of a free society. It was that guiding principle which led them to draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the American Revolution in 1783 brought an end to the sovereign right of the King to own and control lands in the colonies. It is important to note here that the treaty was not between England and the federal government, which at that time did not yet exist.
“His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.”
Paris Peace Treaty of 1783, Article One (emphasis mine)
That is why in drafting the Constitution, the framers set forth the only instance in which the United States as a sovereign power is permitted to own land:
"To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;”
U.S. Constitution, Article One, Section 8, Clause 17 (emphasis mine)
One of the issues the Constitution was intended to settle was the question of equal sovereignty among the Several States. The Equal Footing Doctrine is the Constitutional principle whose intent was to guarantee the rights of the states to be equal in their sovereign authority. Yet, the federal government, through a series of unconstitutional takings, now owns close to 650 million acres of land. That’s nearly 30% of the total land area of the United States, according to nationalatlas.gov. Almost 98% of the state of Alaska, 86% of Nevada and approximately 65% of all land west of the 100th meridian are under federal ownership, which flies in the face of the “equal footing” principle envisioned by the framers.
This certainly wouldn’t be the first administration to utilize the Antiquities Act in such a fashion. President Jimmy Carter used the Act to seize over 50 million acres of land in Alaska, more than any than any of his predecessors. President Bill Clinton effectively ended energy development in southern Utah by creating the 1.7 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument, including the Kaiparowits Plateau, which contains the nation’s largest undeveloped field of low-sulfur, low polluting coal. Only two other locations of such coal exist worldwide. One is a remote area of Colombia in South America; the other is Kalimantan Island, Indonesia. Mr. Clinton defended his actions at the time, citing environmental concerns. Some media watchdog groups, however, have criticized the move as a political favor to longtime Clinton associate James Riady, whose development firm the Lippo Group held a majority interest in the Kalimantan coal field. Taking the Kaiparowits coal off-line gave Lippo a virtual monopoly on the environmentally friendly coal.
I’m sure that everyone reading this knows about some of the financial troubles plaguing the nation of Greece. According to an article in the UK Guardian, German politicians have floated the idea that Greece should consider selling off some of its assets, including the Aegean Islands, which are under state ownership, and even such ancient treasures as the Acropolis and the Parthenon to meet its financial obligations to the European Union. How much of a stretch is it to consider that China could demand that we sell off such landmarks as Mount Rushmore or Yellowstone National Park to make good on some of the $750 billion of our debt that they still own?
International political implications aside, this kind of federal control of the means of production is something that I find personally disturbing, for a host of reasons. Taking these lands out of the hands of farmers, miners and energy producers stifles our ability to compete in the world economy. Right now, this nation possesses sufficient resources to not only provide much-needed jobs to its citizens, but to retire our debt and to achieve economic self-sufficiency well into the next decade. But no, say the environmental extremists. It’s much more important to save a snail darter than to ensure our nation’s economic security and energy independence. One rancher was forced off of his 180,000-acre ranch by federal officials from the US Forest service who asserted claims of ownership, despite the fact that the rancher’s family had legally owned and worked the land for more than 100 years. This is just one example of hundreds of productive, law-abiding citizens whose lives have been turned upside-down by over-zealous environmentalists, backed by the full weight and force of federal power and bureaucracy.
Hey, here’s an idea…why don't we give these guys total control over our healthcare system!