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Access or Profit?

Think the State of Montana is better at managing public lands than the Federal Government? Think again.

The National Wildlife Federation just released a report titled How Could Your Recreational Access Change if Federal Lands were Controlled by the States? The report details differences between state and federal management of public lands.

springprairie2

Spring Prairie then

During the 1890s, Spring Prairie north of Kalispell was a favored stop for wagon and mule trains traveling the Fort Steele Trail. This important trail connected the Mullan Road near Missoula with the Tobacco Plains and the prosperous mining districts in British Columbia. Spring Prairie offered a large spring of clear water as well as plentiful grazing and timber and was an important resting point before the caravans entered the arduous, heavily timbered part of the northward journey.

At least there is plenty of public access

Spring Prairie today: At least there is plenty of public access

By the Enabling Act of 1889, Montana was to be given sections 16 and 36 of every township within it’s borders when it became a state. The lands were to be held in trust by the state for public education. Spring Prairie was part of that bequest. Montana law requires state trust lands to be administrated to “secure the largest measure of legitimate and reasonable advantage to the state.” Today, due to this mandate to maximize revenues from state lands, Spring Prairie is mostly paved over with plans afoot in the near future to fill and pave the spring itself. Phase 4 of the development will put just over $100,000 a year into state coffers.

At statehood, Montana was given 5.9 million acres of school trust land. After selling off around 800,000 acres, today the State Land Board administers about 5.1 million acres. Those lands include 4.7 million acres under 9,000 agreements for crop and range leases throughout the state, 5,301 oil and gas, metalliferous and non-metalliferous mineral, coal, and sand and gravel leases, and 39 coal leases. The state sold 61.4 million board feet of timber from 780,000 acres of state lands in 2014. Since the state owns our riverbeds, Montana also leases 19,000 acres of riverbed and island tracts for oil and gas development. In 2014, Montana sold 4,093 acres of state trust land.

Until 1991, most of the leased lands were accessible only at the whim of the lessor. Today you can buy a State Lands Permit to access most state lands. About 1.3 million acres of Montana’s public lands are “landlocked” that is, they are surrounded by private parcels and not accessible by the public. One example is the section surrounded by Ted Turner’s 22,000-acre Bar None Ranch. Turner Enterprises leases 16,600 acres of public land in Montana. The area is technically open to public access, but the reality is there is no access across the private land unless you pay Mr. Turner’s Montana Hunting Company $14,000 to hunt on the “public” land.

If Montana were to take possession of all the BLM and U.S. Forest Service land in the state, they would gain about 25 million acres on which to maximize profits for the state. In 1999, the Montana State Legislature passed a law exempting many DNRC activities from MEPA compliance for “lease renewals” and certain other activities associated with trust lands management. If these lands were managed like state trust lands, much of your current access would be lost, or restricted. Much of the new land would necessarily have to be sold to the highest bidder to maximize profit for the state. You would have to buy a permit for lands you can now access for free. Some lands you can now access would be leased for commercial activities which would impair public access and impact wildland values. Virtually every decision on management of public lands would be based on what is best for the state revenue stream and not on what is best for the physical streams, forests and recreational values.

Spring Prairie has become an asphalt wasteland under state management to provide a modest boost to state coffers. Little oversight from overworked and understaffed state agencies would result in much the same fate for many currently open public lands in Montana if the current iteration of the Sagebrush Rebellion is allowed to move forward with its profit-fueled ,corporate vision for public lands in our state.

 

The Chameleon Caucus: Who are they now?

chameleonMost of us likely remember a bit of a dustup that the State of Montana had a few years ago with a shady group called American Tradition Partnership (ATP) and their research arm the American Tradition Institute over campaign finance laws. ATP thought that using out-of-state dark money to send anonymous fliers attacking Montana candidates should not be questioned. They refused to register as a political group, or reveal their funding sources. The group was later implicated in break-ins at the office of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices and the office of then-Attorney General Steve Bullock. ATP was instrumental in getting our century-old political disclosure law nullified in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United Case.

Following revelations in ATP documents found in a Colorado meth house, ATP became pretty much ineffective in Montana and elsewhere. American Tradition Partnership pretty much faded away. End of story, right? Well not exactly.

Go to the website of the American Tradition Institute today and you will find this forwarding page:

We’ve Changed Our Name, Refined Our Focus, and Moved Our Site

Check Us Out: Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal)

According to their website, the Energy & Environmental Legal Institute pursues “FREE-MARKET ENVIRONMENTALISM THROUGH STRATEGIC LITIGATION”. We reported last month about a Bozeman-based think tank, the Property and Environment Research Center that claims to have practically invented “Free Market Environmentalism” (FME) although the term has been around for many years. The premise of Free Market Environmentalism is that nature can be preserved, and pollution reduced, by expanding private property rights. Or, in other words, the right to pollute is an absolute right of business. If you want someone to stop polluting, you pay them to not pollute, you don’t take away the God-given rights of business. So, of course, business interests, conservative foundations and think tanks have whole-heartedly endorsed the concept.

E&E Legal advocates responsible resource development, sound science, respect for property rights, and a commitment to markets as it holds accountable those who seek excessive and destructive government regulation that’s based on agenda-driven policy making, junk science, and hysteria.

Basically, E&E Legal is just an updated version of ATP, still dedicated to warping the legal system in favor of corporations by using massive amounts of dark money to influence state and national elections through “agenda-driven policy making, junk science, and hysteria”.

Funny thing is; all of these dark money organizations and foundations are funded through the same sources. ATP had deep ties to two wealthy brothers from Kansas, who shall remain nameless, although their initials are Charles and David Koch. As for E&E Legal, “The group has “connections with the Koch brothers, Art Pope and other conservative donors seeking to expand their political influence” reported the Institute for Southern Studies in October 2011.” PERC also has strong ties to various conservative foundations, including the Koch Foundation and the related Claude R. Lambe Foundation. The money goes round and round. If one group is discredited or exposed, it simply fades away and the same employees, with the same goals and the same money turn up in an entirely new entity with the same direction and objectives. Money talks, but dark money shouts.

FME is founded in part on “Public Choice Theory” as outlined by James Buchanan, and Gordon Tullock in 1962. In 1983, Terry Anderson, one of the founders of the Bozeman think tank wrote, Water Rights: Scarce Resource Allocation, Bureaucracy and the Environment, in which he outlined five aspects of Public Choice Theory, including;

It is rational for voters to remain ignorant of the electoral process because they benefit little from being informed; the members of small interest groups have more incentive to participate in the political process because the benefits are concentrated on them, compared to large groups, and thus they tend to dominate the political process; politicians have a strong incentive to win their next election and this produces a short-sighted bias when they evaluate policies; and elections are a poor measure of voter preferences on any single issue, such as the environment, because it can note be determined which issues motivated voters and to what degree.

I think that pretty much sums up the ambitions of all of the corporate dark money groups. Keep the voters uninformed, fearful, and divided while pouring millions of dollars into electing pliable, but ignorant candidates, who can be persuaded to pass corporate-friendly environmental laws. The colors change, the message stays the same.

Truth in Advertising

America-Liberty-Freedom2The First American Freedom & Liberty Institute for Traditional Faith and Values (FAFLI) is a project of the Foundation for American Resourcefulness, Courage and Exploitation (FARCE).

FAFLI is dedicated to the overuse of hyperbole in pursuit of ultimate property rights for some Americans. Through strategic research and inordinate use of buzz words FAFLI seeks to address and correct onerous federal and state governmental actions that negatively impact energy, environmental development and private wealth. We respect the legitimate marketing of property rights to those in the best position to properly make use of our common resources. We respect proper resource development for the benefit of affluent and prosperous conservative patrons in order to provide excessive remunerative compensation to deserving American property owners without disrespecting the sources of their wealth.

We welcome all donations by American corporations, conservative American foundations and prosperous Americans who share our appreciation of the dominion of the few in directing the continuity of the American revenue stream. We seek an end to excessive and destructive government regulation based on agenda-driven policy making, junk science, and hysteria. We see no part for government involvement to further policies that can better be achieved through our own junk science and hysteria.

80% of our funding is used to secure the property rights, holdings and net worth of our founding members (me). 6% goes to agenda-driven scientific and superficial research to further the obfuscation and denial of national issues that may affect our opulent lifestyle. 11% of donations will further our hidden agenda of driving poor and middle-class taxpayers deeper into fear, indebtedness and privation to further increase the valuation and assets of our contributing members. The remaining 3% of our annual budget will produce a glossy quarterly online newsletter overstating the vulnerability of our economy, introducing irrelevant and exaggerated controversies to produce extreme anxiety among possible opponents and we will also publish vibrant profiles of opulent lifestyles to which nearly anyone can aspire.

Please consider a generous donation today. You will receive an ostentatious, sleek membership certificate suitable for framing and a free subscription to our scintillating quarterly FAFLI newsletter. FAFLI is a 501 (c) (4) Social Welfare organization.  All donations are tax deductible and as always your anonymity is assured through the United States Internal Revenue Code.

Perils of Proposing Public Parcel Plunder

Todd Tanner published a great piece in High Country News on the menace of recent Congressional legislation to promote the transfer and sale of public lands.

This is about power, plunder and money.  It’s about water, which is the source of all that power here in the West. And it’s about the fact that an awful lot of folks back in Washington want to privatize our federal lands.

Montana writer Hal Herring called the vote “an attempt to re-create our country, to vanquish forever the notion that we citizens can hold anything in common. It’s a new paradigm, where the majority of Americans are landless subjects with little recourse in the courts or political process.”

It’s a great piece and needs to be distributed widely, but it’s in another Western publication. That’s fine, and we need to see more of it, but we’re pretty much preaching to the choir. Westerners, by a wide margin oppose transferring our public lands to the states. I say we hit ’em where they live.

The deluge of letters we have seen recently supporting land transfer have all come, mainly, from a single source. The Washington, D.C. PR firm of Berman & Company, funded mostly by oil and gas money. The letters are written by Berman employee Will Coggin deceptively attacking western conservation organizations and promoting the sale of public lands to the highest bidder. So, maybe we should let Washington know just how we, as westerners, feel about the corporate smear campaign. I say, we of the Western persuasion, and especially members of slandered groups like Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, should blitz the D.C. newspapers with letters supporting our public lands and condemning corporate-funded, dark money propaganda.

I chose the Washington Post for my missive, but you could choose any popular D.C. publication. For the Post, you can send a letter to letters@washpost.com  Here are the rules:

What are the guidelines for letter submissions?
We prefer letters that are fewer than 200 words and take as their starting point an article or other item appearing in The Post. They may not have been submitted to, posted to or published by any other media. They must include the writer’s full name — anonymous letters and letters written under pseudonyms will not be considered. For verification purposes, they must also include the writer’s home address, e-mail address and telephone numbers. Writers should disclose any personal or financial interest in the subject matter of their letters. If sending e-mail, please put the text of the letter in the body and do not send attachments — they will not be read.

As an example, here’s my letter to the Post.

We, out here in the square states, continue to see a smooth, corporate-funded attack on our public lands. Frequent letters in our newspapers, written by corporate-funded shills and lobbyists from Washington D.C. PR firms, advocate for the transfer and sale of our communal property. We are drowning in the drool of energy, mining and timber companies who can’t wait to get their hands on our public resources and lock out all of us bumpkins who see the true value of lands held in common with every citizen of our country.

We see unwarranted attacks on conservation organizations such a Trout Unlimited and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers who have done more to promote and protect our shared lands than all the lobbyists, lawyers and CEOs in D.C. combined. Our public lands provide clean air, clean water, hunting, fishing and recreation to all the good folks of our country. They are not simply assets on a spreadsheet to be pillaged at will.

I would like to suggest that you folks keep your corporate salivation on your side of the Potomac and quit exporting hate speech to the West. We will do whatever it takes to protect these lands for the good of all the citizens of our republic and you can rest assured that when you next decide to visit our nation’s great parks and public lands they will still be open, accessible to all, and they will be here waiting for you.

Legislative Canoodling

In his latest proclamation from the House floor, Speaker, Austin Knudsen holds forth on respect for the rules of “procedural maneuvering”. Yes, it appears there are rules.

He decries the passage of the Healthy Montana Act (SB405) as a “massive expansion of Obamacare in our state” and “medical welfare”. That’s all well and good and I’m sure that is his honest opinion. After all, he does support the process by which the bill was passed.

“I respect legislators who make decisions on policy for their constituents — that’s why they sent us here.”

But, it seems that what he doesn’t support is that bill was passed over his objections. Big bills, such as the Healthy Montana Act and the ratification of the the CSKT Water Compact (SB262) are passing the legislature over the objections of the Tea Party leadership and apparently that’s not seen as acceptable by a minority of members.

“A group of representatives who were upset that they weren’t getting their way used procedural maneuvering to sidestep the rules, rendering them basically meaningless. This group has decided that they will use any means necessary to get what they want even if it means breaking the rules. A civilized body should never resort to an “ends justifies the means” mentality.”

Respect for the rules is proper and right. We all live by mutually agreed to rules, but those rules can be changed by collective agreement. Yes, there was a certain amount of bending of the rules by both sides in these debates, but that seems to be the way the system works.

One important point seems to be overlooked by the Speaker. Both of these important bills were supported by a majority of Montana citizens and expressed through their duly-elected representatives. In votes of  54-42 and 53-47, a majority of House members consisting of both Democrats and Republicans were able to express their endorsement in our legislature. Rules are rules of course, but rules are not law. No amount of legislative canoodling, or political chicanery, by either side, was able to muzzle the voice of the people of the Treasure State and to me, that seems to be a good thing.

501 Don’t See Me

A rhetorical war is being quietly waged over the remaining natural resources in the American West. We have recently seen the battles play out in Congress, as they pass funding to help transfer federal lands to states and, of course, we have seen it in the legislative bodies of several western states, including Montana, where proposed bills to transfer federal lands to state control have been met with anger and vitriol by citizens groups.

The weapon of choice for both sides in this conflict for our public resources is the 501(c) section of the United States Internal Revenue Code. As originally conceived, section 501(c) allowed for the formation of not-for-profit advocacy organizations. It reduced the tax burden on cash-strapped citizens groups and allowed for non-disclosure of the names of donors to shield community-minded contributors from constant pleas for money from similar organizations.

In 2010, everything changed due to the decision in the Citizens United v. FEC case in the U.S. Supreme Court. In its decision in the Citizens United case, the Court held that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by a nonprofit corporation. That decision released corporate America to enter the public discourse with a vengeance never seen before and to do so anonymously. They could now use the vast financial resources of their stockholders to influence and change public policy to protect and enhance corporate profits.

The number of nonprofit organizations soared, growing by more than 30% between 2003 and 2013 and further, spending by groups who no longer had to disclose their funding sources grew exponentially.

nondisclosure

Center for Responsive Politics

 

 

Now, companies have been granted a way to pour unlimited money into causes that would disproportionately benefit their bottom line and they could do so using so called, “Dark Money” because they no longer have to reveal that funding for their positions came from the various business interests who would most benefit from changes in state and national policy.

501(c) groups funded by corporate profits make anonymous accusations against 501(c) environmental and groups who, likewise, don’t release their funding sources. In one of the more recent examples we see letters in local newspapers from someone named “Will Coggin”, reputed to be “director of research for the Environmental Policy Alliance.” In a letter published April 2 in the Helena Independent Record, and in other Montana papers, Mr. Coggins makes outrageous claims against some of the most popular environmental groups in Montana, accusing groups like Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership of “camouflaging their [anti-gun, anti-energy] efforts by manipulating the more politically conservative sportsmen community” and of being “Out-of-state radical environmentalists”.

One of the main attacks advocating for land transfer has been that states are more efficient in managing public lands because they make more money on their holdings. I guess I would agree that states charge more for use of public resources, but I would argue that there are many good reasons and advantages for the disparity. In the case of Montana, state law requires that state trust lands provide the maximum revenue possible. That is not true of federal holdings. In fact, in many cases federal agencies have kept lease and sale costs on their resources below market value for good reason. Federal timber has been sold below cost to keep lumber prices down during hard times. Lower prices are also used to subsidize local timber and mining companies to retain local jobs. When ranchers graze cattle on federal lands at lower prices, the cost for your hamburger remains affordable. Yes, we could charge more for the use of our resources, and in some cases we should, but in keeping prices affordable for rural folks, we keep our rural economies viable. So yes, the Feds could charge more as do most state agencies, but that means only an increase in commodity prices for us all and higher profits for producers.

Will Coggin is informed on these issues, but he has a corporate-driven agenda to promote. Camouflage would be something with which Mr. Coggin is intimately familiar. He, of course, doesn’t reveal that he is an employee of one of Washington D.C.s largest corporate lobbying firms headed by Richard Berman (dubbed “Dr. Evil” by CBS 60 Minutes). Berman has become a favorite hit man hired by corporations wanting to influence public policy without seeming to be connected to the effort. Berman has established hundreds of web sites and foundations, usually using 501(c)(3) organizational ambiguity, to anonymously flog corporate ambitions. In fact, the Environmental Policy Alliance, by which Mr. Coggin claims to be employed, is in fact a PR front group established by Berman & Co. Berman’s groups are funded by foundations created by business interests. The purposely named EPA claims to be a project of the “Center for Organizational Research & Education”, which itself morphed last year from the Berman-created “Center for Consumer Freedom” which was set up by Rick Berman to attack PETA and food safety advocates on behalf of restaurant interests.

It’s extremely easy to get lost trying to follow this bewildering web of fake advocacy groups and nonprofit foundations, but of course, that’s really the point. Let’s go just a bit further. The transfer of federal lands into state hands is being advocated primarily by oil, gas, timber and mining interests to make it easier for them to get their hands on our natural resources. And, of course, these same interests are large contributors to nonprofit “foundations” set up by Mr. Berman. In attacking environmental groups for attempting to block the transfer, Mr. Coggin cites “research” done by the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, MT, a 501(c)(3) center funded primarily by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil and advocating “free-market environmentalism”. PERC has ties to the American Lands Council (501(c)), which is one of the primary movers behind the push to transfer federal lands to the states as well as the Koch/Exxon/BP-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) (501(c)) which writes model laws, including land transfer bills, and “trains” state legislators in corporate objectives. The Coggin/PERC/Berman/Koch/ conglomerate has spent billions of your tax, investment and pension funds to promote an idea that has no chance of moving forward.

This is not about control by the state, it is about control of the state and easier access by corporations. It’s not about your property rights, but the rights of TransCanada to take your land for their profit, the rights of ExxonMobil to drill on your land, or the right of mining companies to pollute your streams.

In Montana, we have a hard-learned history with corporate control of our state. At the turn of the 20th century the Anaconda Copper Company controlled ¾ of the jobs in our state and most of our natural resources. Anaconda regularly bought and sold state legislators and pillaged our communal resources at will. The people of Montana learned that lesson once and we won’t go back.

Same song, Seventh verse

irrigationline“The bill will ratify a settlement quantifying the water rights of the Tribe and providing for their development in a manner that avoids harm to their neighbors It provides Federal funds necessary for water supply facilities and Tribal economic development, and defines the Federal role in implementing the settlement. This Settlement bill has the full support of the Tribe, the State of Montana, the Administration and the water users who farm and ranch on streams shared with the Reservation. The bill will effectuate a settlement that is a textbook example of how State, Tribal, and Federal governments can work together to resolve differences in a way that meets the concerns of all. It is also a settlement that reflects the effectiveness of Tribal and non-Tribal water users in working together in good will and good faith and with respect for each other’s needs and concerns.”

Sound familiar? This is a quote from The Honorable Rick Hill in the Congressional Record for Feb. 23, 1999 on introduction of the Chippewa Cree Tribe Reserved Water Rights Settlement Act.

Upon introduction of the Rocky Boy Settlement and Compact in the Senate in 1999, Conrad Burns announced the Congressional findings:

By reaching an out of court settlement, the parties will – once this package is implemented – go to the state water court and ask that all pending litigation involving claims by the Tribe, and by the United States on behalf of the Tribe, be dropped. The quantification of the Tribe’s water right will also clearly benefit upstream and downstream users of water in the effected drainage, including the Big Sandy and Beaver Creek as well as the Milk River. These other users will be able to plan for their future because they will know precisely how much water the Chippewa Cree Tribe is entitled to.

Then Governor Marc Racicot praised the Rocky Boy Compact saying:

The settlement of reserved water rights claims within the State of Montana is of utmost importance to the State… The Rocky Boy’s Compact provides for the development of much needed water resources on the Reservation, while at the same time protecting existing water development, adjacent to, and downstream from the Reservation. The federal funding for development will help alleviate some of the very dire needs of Montana citizens who are Tribal members living on the Reservation.

This week in a opinion piece published in several Montana newspapers, former Governor Racicot again reiterated his support for negotiated settlement as the best way to resolve tribal reserved water rights issues including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact.

As a former governor and attorney general, I know that the process of settling tribal water rights is difficult and challenging. But, I also have no doubt that failing to do so will not only be exponentially more costly for Montana taxpayers and the tribes. It will also continue to be a source of stress and strain to our communities and relationships as well. I strongly and respectfully encourage our legislators to approve the water compact between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the state of Montana.

The CSKT Compact is the last of seven water rights settlements for Indian tribes in Montana to be negotiated between the Tribes, the State and the Federal Government. All of those agreements provided state and federal funds to improve water delivery infrastructure on the reservations. All of the agreements involved, to some extent, off-reservation and downstream water. Since the CSKT Reservation contains, by far the most water of any Montana reservation the current agreement may be a bit further reaching, but it is also, by far, the best deal for the State of Montana, the Federal Government and for the CSKT. Failure of this final negotiated agreement due to bigotry and fear will certainly be “exponentially more costly for Montana taxpayers and the tribes.”

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