Victor Yannacone says he has been preaching
his sermon for 40 years:
America's public lands are intended for the full
use, benefit and enjoyment of all.
And the best and wisest use includes reasonable development
— including energy exploration and production.
Reasonable use must fall between the extremes of
what the New York attorney calls a "pernicious conflict."
Some would preserve the lands as scenic playgrounds
for the rich and powerful; others would give them away so a few
individuals could make money at the expense of others.
A major stumbling block in the way of making the
best use of public lands is the fact that policy is created by people
far from those lands, Yannacone said.
As an example, Yannacone cited the proliferation
of second homes in scenic areas.
"These absentee landowners exercise inordinate and
less-than-rational control," he said.
Those decisions rightfully should be made by people
closer to the lands in question, he said.
"The United States of America was created by people
of the states," he said, emphasizing the word "states."
Yannacone, recently named vice chairman of AAPG's
Public Outreach Committee by chairman Lee Gerhard, will address
the issues of "Development: Conflict and Consensus" at the Rocky
Mountain Section's annual meeting, slated Sept. 8-10 in Laramie,
Wyo., as part of the meeting's Natural Resources Forum.
"It's time to stop 'inside-the-beltway' policy makers
from determining how to use resources they don't understand," he
Yannacone's suggestion for taking back control of
public lands is not necessarily popular among Westerners — comprehensive
land use plans for the states. He said federal lands should be integrated
into those plans.
The only state with such a plan is Hawaii, he said.
"It has many flaws, but on balance it has worked,"
While he urges states to assert their voices in the
national debate, Yannacone said the discussions should not be shaped
by strictly political borders.
"It is time for western states to think of themselves
as a region in a geopolitical sense … instead of states and counties,"
A series of regional compacts among the states would
help balance federal control of lands and resources, he said. States
could move gradually toward comprehensive land use planing by first
addressing regional issues.
"If they do create local, rational, acceptable comprehensive
plans that include federal lands, Congress should require that they
be followed, or the courts will," he said.
'Rise Up and Speak Out'
The issues are hardly limited to the American West,
he said, calling the prohibition of oil and gas exploration off
the Atlantic Coast and in Lake Erie "an absolute outrage and example
of political myopia."
Geologists should insert themselves into the debate
to keep "irrational science from driving even less-rational public
policy," Yannacone said.
He said the recent cancellation of leases off Florida
"Other states (in the region) should rise up and
say Florida cannot veto" development, he said.
The Rocky Mountain region presents "a complex mix
of danger and opportunity," he said.
Yannacone cited a non-energy-related example of "inappropriate
short-term development." He called the spread of wasting disease
among ranch-bred elk an illustration of "the right thing in the
wrong place in the wrong way."
"It was a predictable, preventable problem … Science
was ignored," he said, adding that rational public policy can be
shaped by educating people to natural resource issues, beginning
at an early age.
Yannacone's message is "a plea to rise up and speak
out and assert the truth if you are a scientist."
Geologists must be willing to point out flaws in
public policy and insist that long-term policies be grounded in
science, he said.
Elementary science programs should be rooted in the
earth sciences, he added, with efforts and spending placed "not
in new bureaucracies, but in teachers and learning."
He urged geologists to start in their local school
"Give your time to talk and answer questions," he
said. "Let these students see what a geologist does. You will shape
hundreds of lives."