We must ensure US public lands stay public, or risk ‘demolition of society’

Source: The Guardian

A lawyer and longtime energy lobbyist, the new interior secretary, David Bernhardt, has one goal in mind: handing as much land as possible to corporations.

Who are America’s public lands for? The answer to that question might seem self-evident: the public. The newly confirmed interior secretary, David Bernhardt – officially charged with stewarding them – has a different interpretation. A lawyer and longtime energy lobbyist, he has shuffled between posts on K Street and in the federal government with one goal in mind: handing as much of that land as possible over to corporations, particularly his friends and clients in the oil and gas industry eager to snap up new leases for mining and drilling.

It’s why they were ecstatic when he took over as ousted secretary Ryan Zinke’s second-in-command. Dan Naatz, the political director of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, assured a gathering of 100 oil executives in June 2017 that “we know him very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species, to a lot of issues”. Dutifully, he’s expedited the environmental review process for fossil fuel developers hoping to build on public lands. Bernhardt made plenty of other corporate interests happy too, finishing up the work he began as a lobbyist for industrial farmers to weaken Endangered Species Act protections.

It may not come as a total surprise, then, that – just days after taking over Zinke’s old job – Bernhardt is now under investigation by his department’s Office of the Inspector General over conflicts of interests during his time as deputy secretary.

A long-dead Hungarian political economist tried to warn us about people like Bernhardt and the interests he represents. For Karl Polanyi, making land (along with labor and money) subject to the whims of the market threatens to throw society out of whack, dubbing them “fictitious commodities”.

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