As Hurricane Isaac recedes and the Republican leadership continues to ignore the irony of climate change shortening their convention, Mitt Romney continues to push his plans to hand over control of federal lands to the states.

Since Theodore Roosevelt set aside large swaths of land for federal protection, the government has retained control over the rights of private oil, gas and coal companies to drill and mine in protected federal lands. Though the Obama administration is said to have played a larger role than other administrations, our country has long depended on the federal government to be involved in the decisions of where to excavate for natural resources and where to protect wildlife and habitats.

Romney’s plan looks to change this long tradition of federal stewardship. With major financial support for his campaign coming from energy industry executives, and Paul Ryan’s close affiliation with Big Oil, it is no surprise that Romney is arguing for more drilling off the coasts of Virginia and the Carolinas.  But his proposal is more aggressive than anything done under other Republican presidents: He wants to strip the federal government’s control over much of our country’s natural resources. It is a radically anti-preservation and anti-environment stance.

While states have an interest in maintaining the environment within their borders, many elected officials prefer to rake in the profits from oil or simply to ignore the detrimental effects to its neighboring states. As the New York Times editors wrote last week: “No state, on its own, has an interest in preventing global climate change or reducing energy imports for strategic reasons. Those are national issues that need to be closely supervised by a government with broader interests than competing with the next state for oil leases.” Or, in the words of Esquire writer Charles P. Pierce: “Give most state legislatures the power to do so, and they will sell off your federal lands for pennies on the dollar and two seats in the owner’s box at Cowboys games.”

Of course, the plan has been enjoying the support of energy industry leaders as well as elected officials in states with large percentages of federal land. Kathleen Sgamma, a vice president at Western Energy Alliance said, “Empowering states, rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all federal government approach, is the right way to increase American energy.” Bobby McEnany, a senior aide at the Natural Resource Defense Council begged to differ, calling the plan a “preposterously bad idea.”

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