Taylor Haynes wants to be the next governor of Wyoming. The Republican gubernatorial candidate has big plans for the state, and they involve seeking ownership and jurisdiction of its federal public lands. This vision includes the idea of exploiting the beautiful and pristine Yellowstone National Park.
The idea of “taking back” public lands for the states is nothing new. It was the crux of the Cliven Bundy biscuit. Back in the 1980’s, Ronald Reagan’s Interior Secretary James Watt lusted for mining and drilling rights on protected federal lands.
Those fond of invoking “states’ rights”and the supremacy of the “free market” share the views of Haynes, knowing full well that Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution grants the federal government authority and regulatory powers over its own property. In order to get around this pesky clause, those like Haynes seek a grand selling off of federal lands to the states. If national parks were to meet this fate, there is a very real danger that a state would enact new laws loosening protections of the land, and declaring a field day for grazing, drilling, and mining interests.
That danger already lurks on the federal level, as the example of James Watt proved. Elected representatives, and those appointed by them, are supposed to protect the public’s interests. Instead, as we see with Haynes, they want corporations to have wide-open access to the natural resources contained within these fragile and irreplaceable ecosystems. National parks like Yellowstone are rightfully treated with special care. It is not just a matter of preserving natural beauty or because bison are fun to watch (and they are). These lands are a part of our national character and shared heritage. Conserving them is both an environmental and moral imperative.
Fortunately, Wyoming’s gubernatorial race favors incumbent Governor Matt Mead, who faces Haynes in the Republican primary on August 19. Mead opposes drilling in Yellowstone.
Mead has company. The Center for Western Priorities polled voters in western states, and 59% of Republicans are more likely to support a candidate who wants to enhance public lands protections. Overall, 74% of western voters oppose the selling off of public lands, even to reduce the deficit.
For now, Haynes has virtually no chance of seeing his drilling dreams come to pass — but he underscores the need to be vigilant about our public lands, especially the crown jewels of the National Park Service.
Featured photo: Berkeley Energy Collaborative.