CA's Fire-Fueled Power Problems Prove the Pitfalls of 'Federal Land'

P. Gardner Goldsmith | July 13, 2021
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The spectre of wildfire-inspired California power outages again looms large this week, as Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the company with a government-granted virtual monopoly over the state's wholesale electric market, announced potential fire-created outages across the Golden State.

Of course, the superficial narrative this time is different because the wildfires aren’t just in California - the narrative focus is in Oregon. But the spurious political “Climate Change Blameology” is the same, and so is the tenacious attempt by politicians to avoid the two key realities behind the power outages and fires:

  1. The bulk of recent CA wildfires start and spread over mismanaged government run lands that are host to spark-shedding, government-blessed power corporation lines, and…
  2. The fact that the government should not be running or “owning” these lands in the first place.

As NBC’s Alicia Victoria Lozano reports

…the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon doubled in size Saturday to nearly 77,000 acres in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, interrupting three electrical lines that transmit power from Oregon to California, energy officials said. As a result, California lost thousands of megawatts of imported power and struggled to maintain operating reserves as temperatures soared into triple digits in parts of the state.

And, of course, with this news we get fed the obligatory “Climate Change” narrative: a grim, politically driven fairytale that repeatedly has been shown to involve manipulated data, “scientists” communicating about how to manipulate that data, and the thirst for a worldwide carbon tax that will feed government string-pullers even more.

Reports New York State’s Press-Republican, the commissioner of the NY Department of Conservation is – as he has in numerous previous years -- sending personnel to Oregon to fight the fire.

As climate change continues to drive wildfires that threaten communities throughout the west, New York State stands ready to assist our fellow states with expertise that our firefighters then bring back home to help with future emergency responses.

Yes. Climate Change.

As I mentioned in a May 17 piece, much of the fire trouble in the West is tied to the fact that the land is government-controlled. The bulk of the wildfires start and spread in these areas, and there is an additional factor that ought to be understood.

As I noted in a 2019 piece:

(T)he core and majority of PG&E’s power lines run above government owned and mismanaged land. As numerous commentators have observed, the lack of private property ownership, control, and real liability for management of land has led to a shocking history of fires in California and elsewhere in the US. The government won’t go out of business if it causes damage to other peoples’ property through the mismanagement of land it claims as its own.

Real-time maps of California wildfires show this correlation, and now, the phenomenon appears to be revealing itself in the California power problem that is, itself, being caused by fires in Oregon that have started in “federal forest land” where, yep, power lines are set up.

Related: Pelosi Bizarrely Explains California Wildfires: 'Mother Earth Is Angry'

In a private property paradigm that allowed for land ownership and for private business liability for power provision, the odds of reckless land management would be much lower because there would be financial disincentives attached to poor husbandry. 

But, even as Washington, D.C. debates possibly placing the eco-terrorist-tied Tracy Stone-Manning in charge of the Federal Bureau of Land Management, don’t expect anyone in Congress to talk about the politics or economics of the wildfires.

And don’t expect any of them to talk about the other, most glaring aspect of the Oregon fire: the fact that the U.S. government has absolutely no constitutional power to own “National Forests” at all. This is a lesson we can take with us and share with others.

The U.S. Constitution allows the feds to control only three kinds of land. The first is the ten-square mile district in which the seat of the federal government is to be located – a parcel that is not supposed to be turned into a state because of the potential political influence that might have on Congress. That rule can be found in Article One, Section Eight, Clause Seventeen.

The second type of land the feds can run is the property for federal military bases, termed “garrisons.”

The third are the federal “territories.” And when a territory is admitted into the union, as spelled out in Article Four, Section Three, Clause Two, it is supposed to enter with all the reserved powers of any other state. In other words, it is not supposed to cede land to the feds to be “managed.”

The 1906 Antiquities Act crushed this constitutional system. Proponents for it claim that the federal statute grants the President the power to create "National Monuments" and for Congress to establish "national parks." But there is no constitutionally enumerated power for any of it, and no sane person would claim that nearly half the land west of the Mississippi River is a gigantic "federal garrison."

And yet, as Leonard Gilroy reported for Reason in 2010:

The federal government owns nearly 30 percent of all the land in the country. In the West, those numbers soar even higher. The federal government controls more than 84 percent of the land in Nevada, more than 50 percent of the land in Alaska, Utah, Oregon and Idaho, and more than 40 percent of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming.

None of it is constitutional, and even if the Constitution allowed for this kind of land takeover, it would not be ethical or wise.

One can gain wisdom through many means, but a key method is learning from errors. The government control of land -- which it consistently mismanages and has no incentive to handle property – and the government manipulation of energy provision -- from insane subsidies for wind and solar to the granting of near monopolies to corporations like PG&E – are errors from which the politicians might not learn.

But we can, and we can share that wisdom with others.

Sometimes, that’s the kind of thing that changes the future.