Who is really in charge of our public lands and resources? The American public--or the radical left?
The recession continues to worsen. Stores and companies are closing their doors. Millions are unemployed. Families are struggling to pay for homes, food, cars and fuel.
President Obama just signed a controversial, pork-laden, trillion-dollar "stimulus" package. We'll spend another $350 billion this year on imported oil.
And with the stroke of a pen, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar canceled 77 Utah oil and gas leases that had gone through seven years of studies, negotiations and land-use planning. In an instant, he eliminated hundreds of jobs, terminated access to vital oil and gas deposits, and deprived taxpayers of millions in lease bonus, rent, royalty and tax revenues.
The canceled leases represent one-third of acreage estimated to contain enough oil to fuel 3 million cars and enough natural gas to heat 14 million homes for 15 years. They were rejected because temporary drilling operations might be "visible" from several national parks more than a mile away.
Secretary Salazar is supposedly a moderate on land use and energy development. But this decision, after one week in office, suggests that he actually has strong anti-energy attitudes--or is too easily "persuaded" by environmental pressure groups.
They've already eliminated logging and mining in most of the West. They're now going after oil, gas, coal, oil shale and uranium--and after that ranching and snowmobiling.
Anti-energy zealots always say these areas only have three weeks or, at most, a few months of oil. But by this logic, why conserve, recycle or reduce pollution? Your personal contribution is trifling. Why plant corn or wheat? Your fields won't make a dent in world hunger.
Obviously, it's the cumulative impact that matters.
According to a 2008 Interior Department "inventory" of federal energy resources, 163 million acres of public lands are off-limits to oil and gas leasing. That's more than the total area of Montana and Wyoming combined.
These land withdrawals make 62% of the oil and 41% of the natural gas in our nation's onshore public lands unavailable--along with the jobs and revenues that developing these vital resources would provide. Another 65 million acres are severely restricted--for an additional 30% of our onshore federal oil and 49% of our gas.
That's right. An area the size of Texas and Oklahoma, 92% of our onshore publicly owned oil, and 90% of our onshore natural gas--are off-limits to Americans suffering through this recession.
This precedent to cancel leases (or never issue them), because drilling rigs might be visible from park and wilderness areas, threatens to make millions of additional acres off-limits. Such shortsighted actions will destroy jobs and drive up energy prices and the cost of everything we eat and do.
Offshore, Secretary Salazar has stalled oil and gas drilling yet again, by extending the comment period of the current leasing plan another eight months. Americans rose up successfully during the summer of 2008, to end the decades-long congressional offshore drilling ban, because it was bad policy. Salazar's actions suggest we might be headed toward new anti-energy policies.
Protecting the environment is crucial. And most people understand that, thanks to modern technologies, we can be pro-energy and protect the environment simultaneously.
For instance, while the left incites fear about offshore oil spills, the facts clearly show that current drilling techniques are enormously successful and incredibly safe. The same is true onshore.
In fact, three-fourths of Americans want more drilling, not less. They want out of this recession. They don't want it prolonged with anti-energy, anti-job, anti-revenue policies imposed on us by the radical left.
In the current economic gloom, there is no reason to revert back to the destructive policies that gave us $4-per-gallon gasoline and record-high heating bills.
Every American who supports a pro-energy agenda should contact the Department of the Interior (http://www.doi.gov/contact.html or 202-208-7351) and tell Secretary Salazar that developing all of our energy resources is the only reasonable option, if we want to create American jobs, improve the American economy, and support American national security.
Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI. Roy Innis is the chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality.