SFExaminer Editorial: Interior secretary acting like a commissar on land

President Barack Obama is expected to sign a measure that will charge foreigners a $10 tax to visit the United States. The House passed the Travel Promotion Act last November; on Thursday, the Senate sent it to the president’s desk following a 78-18 vote. The legislation creates a $200 million-a-year government-run tourist bureau, the largest in the world, which will supposedly create up to 290,000 American jobs, at least according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But the presidential ink had not even been affixed before the European Union signaled it would retaliate by imposing a similar tax on Americans traveling abroad, thus encouraging everybody to just stay home and retarding international cultural and business activities.

That’s not the worst part. Missing from the final bill was an amendment offered by Sen. Jim DeMint, D-SC, that would have stopped Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s plans to confiscate more than 10 million acres of federal lands in nine western states by declaring them national monuments. Salazar acted unilaterally, without consulting local or state authorities or members of Congress representing the affected areas. During floor debate on his amendment, DeMint characterized a leaked Interior Department memo listing even more public and private lands Salazar wants locked away from energy, mining, forestry and grazing activities as “a big government land grab.”

Preserving wilderness areas is a legitimate function of the federal government, but it already owns a staggering 650 million acres nationwide, mostly in the west. It’s also hard to believe that the proposed sites eluded the army of government preservationists who continually scour the countryside in search of something to save. On Friday, the Congressional Western Caucus sent a letter to Salazar requesting all internal documents relating to the monument designations, including any referring to coordination with “outside groups” since July 1, 2009.

Public input is not required under the American Antiquities Act, so Salazar was not legally required to consult local authorities before declaring an area a national monument. So the Obama administration is free to permanently lock up millions of publicly owned acres by a mere stroke of the presidential pen. But the law does require that “the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” It’s a stretch to assert that 10 million-plus acres is the smallest possible area needed to protect the black-tailed prairie dogs listed in the DOI memo. Salazar’s action smacks of a Soviet commissar and is alien to republican liberty.

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