Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

PRESERVING THE WEST Series: PUBLIC LANDS - PRIVATE PROFITS FIRST OF FOUR EDITORIALS

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

PRESERVING THE WEST Series: PUBLIC LANDS - PRIVATE PROFITS FIRST OF FOUR EDITORIALS

Article excerpt

No region of the United States quite captures the American spirit or mythos as the West. When Americans think of the heart and soul of the American identity, they think of the rugged individualism of the cowboy and the lure of the frontier. They think of the heroism, courage and just plain fortitude it took to "tame" the Wild West.

The country's attachment to the West continues today. Indeed, it is at the root of the burgeoning national debate over the proper stewardship of the West's natural resources, especially those located on public lands. Under the Clinton administration, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt has begun a painstaking process of re-examining public policy regarding mining, logging and grazing - and met thunderous opposition from Republican legislators.

Still, the premise underlying Mr. Babbitt's efforts is dead-on right: The laws governing the extraction of resources, many of which were written in the past century, have outlived their purpose. In the spirit of Manifest Destiny, they were meant to promote the settlement and development of the West, and they have succeeded gloriously.

In some sense, they have succeeded all too well and left a despoiled environment of overgrazed, clearcut, contaminated or eroded land. It is no longer necessary for the government - the taxpayer - to subsidize the West's exploitation. New principles and new policies must replace the old.

The framework of a new public policy can be found in a report, "Taking from the Taxpayer: Public Subsidies for Natural Resource Development," prepared for the House Committee on Natural Resources, chaired by Rep. George Miller of California.

Any revisions in law or policy must start from the recognition that public land belongs to the public. That may seem patently obvious, but much of current law and policy is oblivious to that fact. …

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