Environmental Economics

The Reagan administration in general and Interior Secretary James Watt in particular have a radically destructive approach to environmental economics.

| November/December 1981

Conservationists across America were shocked, recently, to learn that Secretary of the Interior James Watt sees little reason to worry about preserving the land and resources of the United States for our descendants. As he explained to the Interior Committee of the House of Representatives, "I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns."

James Watt is a brand new kind of Interior Department head, one with no apparent interest in environmental economics. He seems to believe that God has given him marching orders to turn over as much of our public land as possible to private exploitation. This calling, however, is not merely a result of his appointment. For four years before taking office, Watt was president of a gang of environmental rapists, centered in Denver, called the Mountain States Legal Foundation. In that role, he crusaded in favor of unregulated strip mining and other policies that would contribute to the spread of overgrazing and air pollution.

Watt's viewpoint (one that's apparently shared by many other wealthy and powerful westerners) appears to be that God originally gave the lands of the United States to an assortment of large corporations, the Indians then stole that territory from big business, after which the federal government stole it from the Indians. The goal of Watt and other so-called "sagebrush rebels," then, is to return the land to its "rightful" owners.

Bureaucratic Exploitation

To anyone familiar with the present state of western lands, Watt's crusade would be funny if it weren't so dangerous. One must search in the mountain ranges of Nevada, for instance, to discover public domain that hasn't already been overgrazed. Worse yet, with the help of the antiquated mining law of 1872, companies are literally chopping down the mountains themselves. Everywhere the effects of the Forest Service's "Land of Many Abuses" policies are marring the environment.

When dedicated public servants have attempted to halt such plundering of public property, pressure from powerful economic interests has usually gotten those individuals transferred. In fact, long before Watt took over, the morale of the federal employees who would like to conserve something for future generations had begun to deteriorate, and more and more bureaucrats had started to cooperate with the exploiters.

Thus, at a time when the country needs a conservative Secretary of the Interior (an individual who controls nearly a million square miles of our country), it has, instead, an apparent radical who seems bent on destroying his public trust for private profit. Watt's push for more uncontrolled commercial development of public lands has already angered true conservatives throughout the West.

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