The New York Times editorial, A New Day for Wilderness, describes the Department of Interior's reversal of a Bush administration agreement that barred 250 million acres administered by the Bureau of Land Management from being given wilderness status ("one of the sorrier blots on George W. Bush's sorry environmental record," writes the Times.) The Times paints this action as a victory for "Utah's fragile wild lands" and describes Interior as "an agency that historically has been sympathetic to oil and gas companies and other commercial interests." No mention is made of the trend under the Obama administration of using federal agencies to circumvent the wishes of Congress, the courts and the people. The Heritage Foundation describes it well in its Morning Bell:
The ability of the Obama Administration to step up their leftist agenda even after it was thoroughly "shellacked" at the polls is not an accident....This will be the fight of 2011: the unelected central planning "experts" of the Obama Administration versus the newly elected House of Representatives and state and local governments.
Heritage describes the actions of three agencies: HHS's price controls, the EPA's carbon finding, the FCC's net neutrality regulations. We can add Interior to this list.
What is worrisome about the deal is that in Utah and Wyoming 70% of the Green River Formation oil shale deposits are on federal land. These reserves are the largest oil shale deposits in the world, holding an estimated 1.5 trillion barrels of oil equivalent.
Although it takes an act of Congress to designate a wilderness, Interior has a tool at hand that does not require Congressional approval; it can designate a "Wilderness Study Area," which places the land off-limits until Congress comes to a decision about its status. Interior could potentially close off Green River to any commercial activity unless Congress takes action. Furthermore, the Times reports, leases already granted on federal lands might be rescinded, adding insecurity to companies considering investing in oil shale development.
Our National Parks and wilderness areas are national treasures that ought to be protected. Adding millions more acres of high plains to the lands that are forever wild, locking up their enormous resources, would impose enormous economic costs that our nation can ill afford.