A real BLM 'stimulus' proposal

The Interior Department is directing more than $300 million in federal "economic stimulus" money to the Bureau of Land Management to update its facilities, roads and trails and jump-start renewable energy projects across the country, said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who performed like a trained seal here Saturday.

Mr. Salazar said the 650 approved projects will "restore our landscapes and our watersheds" and help fulfill the Obama administration's target for renewable energy development. He made the announcement at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area outside Las Vegas. The fire station on the little loop road west of Las Vegas is one of several facilities slated to receive solar panels under the effort.

The money is part of the $3 billion sent to the Interior Department under the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment ("Porkulus") Act.

Mr. Salazar said Saturday he could not estimate how many jobs would be created by the specific $305 million in BLM spending, though the Interior Department hopes the total $3 billion allocation will create roughly 100,000 new jobs.

The largest chunk of the funding -- roughly $143 million -- will go toward new construction, deferred maintenance and energy efficiency upgrades on existing facilities.

In Nevada, that will include $1.2 million to install solar panels at 16 remote fire stations, $6.8 million on abandoned mine cleanup and $8 million to clear up a backlog in permit applications for people who want to install wind and solar projects -- but not projects that could deliver substantial amounts of cheap power quickly by using coal or other proven technologies, mind you -- on public lands.

Of everything mentioned so far, posting and possibly fencing off potentially dangerous abandoned mine diggings could at least make a contribution to public safety.

But pardon a little adult intervention into this zillion-dollar equivalent of a kids' birthday party, but pony rides, paper hats and hiring people to slap solar panels on the roofs of rural outhouses and fire stations only just barely qualify as "creating jobs."

Real jobs involve producing something that consumers -- either here or abroad, among our trading partners -- want and will voluntarily pay for. There's no reason to believe one-time desert make-work schemes, building things no one would voluntarily buy, will "buoy" the economy any better now than when FDR tried the same thing with his 1930s "Civilian Conservation Corps" -- keeping men dependent on the government and thus stretching the Great Depression by an extra seven years.

Here's a better idea: The BLM manages nearly 260 million acres of land, largely concentrated in a dozen Western states. But the Constitution says that (leaving aside the District of Columbia) within the several states, the federal government shall have plenary authority over only such lands as shall be needed to construct "Forts, Magazines, dock-Yards and other needful Buildings." Let them turn over those 260 million acres -- 85 percent of the state, in Nevada's case -- to the governments of the respective states in which they lie, and go home to Washington.

The states could then sell off these lands (using the proceeds to eliminate all taxes on their people for decades), or open them to homesteading by citizens, as they see fit.

It would sure be a lot more "stimulating" to the economy than looting money from the pockets of struggling Americans to create short-term employment for $30-an-hour construction workers and a few favored contractors, retrofitting solar outhouses.