How Politicians Are Using Taxpayer Money To Fund Their Campaign and To Sell Off America’s Public Lands

— by Matt Lee-Ashley, Guest Contributor at ThinkProgress-Climate

west land
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/REED SAXON

The recent Cliven Bundy debacle in Nevada put a national spotlight on the long-running, and long-failing, effort by right-wing Western legislators to seize federal public lands and either turn them over to the states or sell them to the highest bidder.

While the renewal of this so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion” has thus far been carried out with limited resources by part-time legislators like State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-UT), new research shows that its leaders are now using taxpayer money from at least 42 counties in nine Western states to advance an aggressive and coordinated campaign to seize America’s public lands and national forests for drilling, mining, and logging.

According to a ThinkProgress analysis, the American Lands Council (ALC) — an organization created to help states to claim ownership of federal lands — has collected contributions of taxpayer money from government officials in 18 counties in Utah, 10 counties in Nevada, four counties in Washington, three counties in Arizona, two counties in Oregon, two counties in New Mexico, and one county in Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming. In total, county-level elected officials have already paid the ALC more than $200,000 in taxpayer money. A list of these counties and their “membership levels” can be seen on the ALC website.

Since its inception in 2012, the ALC has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative front group backed by the oil and gas industry and billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over federally owned national forests and public lands to Western states. So far, Utah is the only state to have signed a law calling for the seizure of federal lands, but Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have passed bills to study the idea and further action is expected in statehouses during 2015 legislative sessions.

Legal experts report that Utah’s law, and similar bills being advanced by ALC and ALEC are in clear violation of Article IV of the Constitution, are in conflict with the laws that established Western states, and would be overturned if ever tested in federal court.

As the American Lands Council has grown in influence and resources, its activities have received new scrutiny. ALC President Ken Ivory, for example, reportedly earned more than $40,000 from the organization in 2012 (his salary for 2013 has not yet been disclosed). According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Ivory’s wife, Becky, also receives payments from the ALC.

A recent fundraising email obtained by ThinkProgress also shows that at least one ALC member, Washington County, Utah Commissioner Alan Gardner, is using his government title and government email account to raise money for ALC’s lobbying efforts and training of political candidates.

The fundraising solicitation that was sent from Gardner’s official government email address on June 13 asks county governments to contribute $1,000 to become a “Bronze” member, $5,000 to become a “Silver” member, or $25,000 to become a “Gold” member of the ALC.  Gardner confirmed to ThinkProgress that he was the author of the email.

The fundraising solicitation says that up to $100,000 will be spent by ALC on a “Campaign Project” aimed at equipping candidates for federal, state, and county office with “materials and resources to build broad based Knowledge and Courage to compel Congress to honor its promise to us and our children to transfer title to the public lands….” Gardner’s email also reports that the funds will be used for lobbyists, a legal team, polling, and engaging the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.

ALC’s use of county funds adds to the growing cost to taxpayers of the right-wing land seizure movement. The state of Utah, for example, has already spent more than $500,000 to study a takeover of federal land and has set aside an additional $3 million for legal fees to fight the federal government in court. In Idaho, when the Attorney General’s office questioned the legality of seizing federal lands, legislators in the state spent more than$20,000 on private counsel. In Nevada, a federal land seizure study cost taxpayers more than $66,000, while a special task force to study the issue in Wyoming cost taxpayers$30,000.

In addition to using taxpayer funds to advance unconstitutional bills to seize federal lands, the ALC also relies on financial support from the mining industry and fossil fuel interest groups. Americans for Prosperity, for example — another group financed by the Koch brothers — is listed as a “Bronze Member” of ALC. Mesa Exploration, a mining company whose recent proposal to build a potash mine in an area that the Donner Party crossed in 1846 was recently nixed by federal land managers, is also listed as a “Bronze Member” on ALC’s website.

Matt Lee-Ashley is a senior fellow and director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow him on Twitter at @MLeeAshley.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

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Secretary Jewell Announces Two Solar Projects Approved in California, Nevada

As part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution, create jobs and move our economy toward clean energy sources, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced the approval of two solar energy projects located near the Nevada-California border that are expected to supply 550 megawatts of renewable energy, enough to power about 170,000 homes, and support more than 700 jobs through construction and operations.

Today’s approvals bring to 50 the number of utility-scale renewable energy proposals and associated transmission that the Interior Department has approved since 2009, including 27 solar, 11 wind, and 12 geothermal projects. Together, the projects could support more than 20,000 construction and operations jobs and, when built, generate nearly 14,000 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 4.8 million homes. Thirteen of the projects are already in operation, including the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, a 377-megawatt solar thermal plant that started commercial operations and delivering power to California’s electric grid last week.

“When President Obama first took office in 2009, there were no solar projects approved on public lands, and no process in place to move forward the hundreds of applications pending from businesses that wanted to harness renewable energy to help power our nation,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “With today’s milestone of 50 utility-scale renewable energy projects approved on public lands since our standing start in 2009, and with a number of those already producing energy for the nation’s electric grid, our clean energy future is bright.”

The first project is the 300-megawatt Stateline Solar Farm Project, a facility that will be built in San Bernardino County, California, on approximately 1,685 acres of public land located two miles south of the California-Nevada border. Using photovoltaic panels, the facility will generate enough electricity to power approximately 90,000 homes and create an estimated 400 jobs during construction and 12 permanent jobs during operations. The facility will connect to the grid via a 2.7-mile 220-kilovolt transmission line.

The second project is the 250-megawatt Silver State South Solar Project located near Primm, Nevada on approximately 2,400 acres of public land. The facility is expected to power approximately 80,000 homes and will be located adjacent to the 50-megawatt Silver State North Project, the first solar plant on public lands to deliver power to the grid. Silver State South will also use photovoltaic panels and will generate an estimated 300 jobs during construction and 15 permanent operations jobs.

Both projects are proposed by the company First Solar and have commitments from Southern California Edison to purchase the projects’ output for 20 years.

“These solar projects reflect exemplary cooperation between the Bureau of Land Management and other federal, state and local agencies, enabling a thorough environmental review and robust mitigation provisions,” said BLM Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze. “Secretary Jewell’s commitment to a landscape-level approach represents a responsible balance between the need for renewable energy and our mandate to protect the public’s natural resources.”

First Solar has agreed to undertake significant project design changes and mitigation measures to minimize impacts to wildlife, water, historical, cultural and other resources. For example, the BLM worked on the Stateline proposal to reduce the project’s footprint by more than 20 percent to avoid and minimize project impacts. In addition, as part of ongoing efforts to protect the threatened Desert Tortoise, the BLM is expanding the nearby Ivanpah Desert Wildlife Management Area by more than 20,000 acres and requiring that the developer achieve 3:1 compensatory mitigation for Desert Tortoise for its 1,685 acres.

For the Silver State South project, the project design was modified to reduce the size of the facility by 100 megawatts. Mitigation measures include soil stabilization to prevent erosion and polluted runoff. In addition, the developer must fund over $3.6 million for Desert Tortoise mitigation and $3.5 million for studies intended to guide future efforts to protect the Desert Tortoise in the project area. The company must also assess the project’s potential adverse impact if archaeological properties at the site are found to be eligible for National Register of Historic Places listing.

“As we implement the President’s Climate Action Plan to generate jobs, cut carbon pollution and move our economy toward clean energy sources, we need to do so in a way that takes the long view and avoids or minimizes conflicts with important natural and cultural resources,” added Jewell.

Additional information on the projects is available here.

Over One Million Voices Signed On to Protect Our Public Lands

— by David Turnbull, Oil Change International

Our public lands are our lands, held and maintained by the Government in trust for the public at large, not the goliath corporations. And in support of that premise, over the last few weeks, we’ve seen some AMAZING response to our petitions to protect our public lands to prevent corporations from fracking our public natural resources. Over a million people from around the country came together to push for protecting our public lands from fracking. Oil Change International, along with our partners in the American’s Against Fracking Coalition, delivered comments from citizens all across our country directly to the White House and Bureau of Land Management in Washington D.C.

Here’s one of my favorite pictures from the event, showing the power of this coalition coming together:

This campaign was a landmark moment in the fight to protect our communities from the dangers of fracking and is already having an impact. The coalition started with a goal of gathering 200,000 comments and ended up with over a million, including over 600,000 calling for an outright ban of fracking on public lands. This is the largest number of comments calling for a fracking ban ever submitted to the Obama Administration.

It’s actions like this – and people like you – that will help us reclaim our democracy from the grip of the fossil fuel industry. So, we simply wanted to say: Thank you. Thank you for standing up, for raising your voices with us, and for demanding better from our leaders.

Together we’re pushing back against corporate influence and making sure our elected leaders know who they’re accountable to: the people they represent, not rich polluters. We’ll be watching the Bureau of Land management closely to make sure our public lands (and all lands) are protected from fracking and other fossil fuels.

Rest assured there will be more fights against dirty fossil fuels, but thanks to your recent efforts, we’ve now got an even stronger foundation.

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Oil Change International campaigns to expose the true costs of fossil fuels and facilitate the coming transition towards clean energy. We are dedicated to identifying and overcoming barriers to that transition.

We are a 501c3 organization and all donations are fully tax deductible.

Check out our blog at PriceOfOil.org and find out how much oil and coal money your Representatives take at DirtyEnergyMoney.com.

Tell the Bureau of Land Management: Ban fracking on federal lands

Tell the Bureau of Land Management: Ban fracking on federal lands

The Obama administration just released its first major fracking policy–the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed rules for fracking on 600 million acres of public land. And it’s even worse than we feared.1

In a major concession to the fracking industry and its lobbying efforts, the proposed rules are even weaker than previous drafts of the rules.2 3 And they do nothing to close Dick Cheney’s infamous “Halliburton loophole,” which exempts fracking from key parts of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act.4

Of course, it’s become clear that there is simply no safe way to frack. So even worse than the specific concessions made to industry in the draft regulations is the assumption that fracking should be allowed to continue on federal lands despite overwhelming evidence that it endangers our air, water and climate.

The BLM is accepting public comments on its proposed fracking rules for 30 days. We need to let the administration know that these rules are totally inadequate. The administration needs to ban fracking on public lands – not cave to the industry and endanger our health and safety.

Submit a public comment telling the Bureau of Land Management: Ban fracking on federal lands.

An area of federal land larger than the entire state of Florida is currently under lease for oil and gas extraction, so this is one of the most important fracking policy decisions the Obama administration will make.5

Unfortuanately, every indication is that the White House is still putting the interests of oil and gas companies before the health and safety of American communities. The proposed regulations let the industry keep secret the toxic chemicals it injects underground by designating them as “trade secrets” without oversight from the BLM. The rules allow the industry to store contaminated waste in massive open pits, which can release dangerous air emissions and leak toxins into groundwater. And the rules do nothing to prevent the industry from fracking wells right next to homes and schools.

And of course, the harm fracking does to local communities is compounded by its significant contribution to the climate crisis.6 As the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passes 400 parts per million–well beyond what many scientists say is safe–the Obama administration should be working to keep its promise to confront climate change, not encouraging the extraction of vast new reserves of dirty oil and gas.

Submit a public comment telling the Bureau of Land Management:
Demand that they BAN fracking on OUR federal lands.

Take-Action

1. Steven Mufson, “Obama administration issues draft fracking regulations,” Washington Post, May 16, 2013
2. Matthew McFeeley, “Obama Administration Caves To Fracking Industry in New Proposed Rules,” NRDC Switchboard, May 16, 2013
3. Mike Soraghan, “White House huddled with industry before changes to BLM fracking rule,”EnergyWire, April 12, 2013
4. Lauren Pagel and Lisa Sumi, “Loopholes for Polluters,” Earthworks, May 16, 2011
5. Amy Mall, “More than six percent of U.S. already leased for oil and gas: new NRDC analysis,”NRDC Switchboard, February 26, 2013
6. Joe Romm, “IEA’s ‘Golden Age of Gas Scenario’ Leads to More Than 6°F Warming and Out-of-Control Climate Change,” ThinkProgress, June 7, 2011

Say “NO” to the Pipeline

Some things are just bad ideas from the start.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority’s proposed water drill, pump and pipe scheme will devastate our people, plants, and animals in rural Eastern Nevada. That’s what a government approval of a Right-of-Way permit for a pipeline would do, according to a study of this unsustainable groundwater mining project.

Tell the Bureau of Land Management that its preferred alternative in the Environmental Impact Statement would cause unacceptable damages to our rural communities and tribes and to our public lands, springs, streams, and wildlife.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) just announced its preference for an alternative in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which would approve a $15.7 billion proposal of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) for its 300-mile pipeline. The BLM did not study cheaper and more reliable water supply alternatives.

Please send an email today to the BLM asking them to choose to avoid environmental disaster by denying approval of SNWA’s water grab in this century.

Thanks for all you do for the environment,
Rose Strickland,
Water Project Chair, Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club

P.S.Tell your friends and family to take action, and get your social media circles involved.

References:
http://nevada.sierraclub.org/

http://greatbasinwater.org/