The liberal Center for American Progress caught this magnificent Mitt Romney deer-in-the-headlights moment on public lands policy, in an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal last night. It’s hard to imagine how this could have gone worse:
I don’t know the reason that the federal government owns such a large share of Nevada. [Pols emphasis] And when I was in Utah at the Olympics there I heard a similar refrain there. What they were concerned about was that the government would step in and say, “We’re taking this” – which by the way has extraordinary coal reserves – “and we’re not going to let you develop these coal reserves.” I mean, it drove the people nuts. Unless there’s a valid, and legitimate, and compelling governmental purpose, I don’t know why the government owns so much of this land.
So I haven’t studied it, what the purpose is of the land, [Pols emphasis] so I don’t want to say, “Oh, I’m about to hand it over.” But where government ownership of land is designed to satisfy, let’s say, the most extreme environmentalists, from keeping a population from developing their coal, their gold, their other resources for the benefit of the state, I would find that to be unacceptable…
Now there are particular reasons why so much of Nevada’s territory is managed by the federal government–the biggest of which is the enormous military presence in the state–and areas like the Nevada Test Site that Romney would probably prefer stay public once he “studies” them.
Here in Colorado, while not as extensive as Nevada, we certainly have broad swaths of public lands too–places like Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. Not to mention national monuments, forests, grasslands, wilderness, plain old BLM…how many billions of dollars in economic activity do we owe to our public lands in Colorado?
Anyway, we sincerely hope Romney gets a crash course on this stuff before he sits down with editorial boards in our state. This is a little like Arizona’s John McCain telling the Pueblo Chieftain in 2008 that the Colorado River Compact “obviously” needed renegotiating, then being somehow confused when people started showing up at his rallies with pitchforks.