Monday, April 22, 2013

Free Market Environmentalism on Public Lands

From an interesting op-ed in the Denver Post:
Last year, conservationists in Colorado proposed to buy leases from energy companies on the Thompson Divide near Carbondale. Their reasoning was simple: The area’s value for anglers, hikers, and hunters outweighed the value of the oil and gas beneath the land. The plan, however, lacked the necessary approval from Congress. Today, no deal has been reached, and plans to drill are moving forward.
If compromises are to succeed on public lands in Colorado and across the West, creative solutions are needed. Federal leasing rules that allow contracting between energy developers and conservationists on public lands would promote voluntary agreements while respecting the rights of leaseholders. Regulatory changes to the environmental review process that facilitate direct negotiation would encourage groups to resolve their differences. And market-based leasing reforms that open up the bidding process and allow for conservation leasing would provide an alternative to the controversy and litigation that characterize public lands today.
The issue of how best to allocate public land given the tension between conservation and extraction is a tricky one. On the heels of activist Tim DeChristopher's release from prison after serving 21 months for interfering with a public land auction, I'm glad to see that some reform ideas are out there. Allowing conservation groups to enter the market and bid on public land, or make deals with energy developers sounds like a no-brainer. The status quo--conservationists struggling to exert influence over land which they have no clear property rights--is the source of tremendous conflict. Establishing a simple legal way for anybody to acquire property rights over land they value highly would be a great step forward.

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