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THE WITHDRAWN OIL LANDS.
There is one phase of the oil situation which should be most carefully considered. President Taft withdrew a large acreage in California and in Wyoming after much of it had been filed upon and after some development had been begun on a part of the lands. This withdrawal took place in September, 1909, and withdrew part of the lands for the benefit of the Navy as a fuel reserve and other of the lands were to be held awaiting appropriate legislation for their disposal. The total acreage withdrawn was 3,041,000 acres, of which perhaps one-half was then in private ownership. There was doubt at the time of these withdrawals as to their legality, there being no specific statute on the books authorizing the action. So serious was this doubt that as a precautionary measure Congress at its next session passed an act authorizing such withdrawals, and the same lands were subsequently, in July, 1910, withdrawn again. It was the opinion of many of the most competent members of the bar that the withdrawal of 1909 was void and the operators proceeded to act in accordance with this advice. The result was that when the second withdrawal, that of 1910, was made, there were a large number of operators engaged in drilling and some had already found oil on these lands. The Government insisted upon the validity of the 1909 withdrawal, and after failing to have its view sustained in the lower courts, was at last successful before the Supreme Court. So that to-day those who were not engaged in actual development of the lands at the time of the first withdrawal have no legal title to the lands. If the full measure of the Government's right is acted upon as a basis of our policy in dealing with these lands it will bankrupt many oil companies and do what appears to me to be an injustice and an unnecessary injustice to those who have invested many millions of dollars under a mistake as to the law. I shall not assume to say what policy should be followed as to the naval reserves, but as to the other withdrawn lands I believe Congress (which is the one forum wherein relief can be sought) should so act as to recognize the equitable rights of those operators. This might be done by saying that those who would to-day be entitled to patent were the land not withdrawn may have leases under which they will pay a liberal royalty to the Government. This plan will doubtless be urged. I am of the opinion that it is too liberal. We might draw a line at the time of the second withdrawal. If this were done,
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leases could be made to all who were actually operating upon this land at that time. And if it is thought advisable, there could be imposed a higher royalty than would be called for under the general development bill. I feel that this is one of those situations often arising in the life of the individual and of the State when it is not wise to exact all that the law allows even as to those who are in the wrong
TURNING WATER INTO POWER.
When Benjamin Franklin caught the lightning on the tail of his kite, he did a lot of strange things for this world, of which we are only beginning to learn. Among these are the uses to which flowing water may be put. The old-fashioned water wheel, which was the motive power of our early industries, is now converted into a turbine which generates electricity, and this has as great a variety of uses as the muscles of a man's arm or a horse's shoulder. Among the other strange things done by Benjamin Franklin was to give an added and peculiar value to the ledges of granite which confine our western streams and turn them into dam sites, useful for purposes of power generation. How many of these there are on public land not yet disposed of no one knows, but we have several hundred under withdrawal, which should be freed from withdrawal and turned into use just as quickly as possible; for, as the muscle of man or horse can raise a few barrels of water from the well to supply stock or irrigate the garden patch, so can the power of the stream, turned into electricity, be used to raise millions of barrels of water to irrigate alfalfa farms or orchards. And this is now one of the most common uses of electric power in the West, and, in fact, in some of the Eastern States where irrigation is found of value. The waters that flow down our streams are only a small portion of the rain and snow which fall. There are streams that follow their courses underground just as clearly marked and as valuable, if once discovered, as the streams above ground. And to tap these is a part of making America. Cheap gasoline is doing it in some places; cheap coal in a very few; but cheaper electricity is doing it in a large way. Then, too, there is that mystifying miracle of drawing nitrogen from the air for chemical use, which can be done only with great power, but is being done in Germany, Norway, Sweden, France, Switzerland, and elsewhere; by which an inexhaustible substitute for the almost exhausted nitrates of Chili has been found. This is already a great industry in Europe, and will by necessity become greater in the United States than elsewhere, because of our size and need and opportunity. To increase the yield of our farms and to give us an independent and adequate supply of nitrogen for the explosives used in war, we must set water wheels at work that will fix nitrogen in lime. And there are still more intimate uses for this power—in places in Montana it is so cheap that it operates the churn, the sewing machine, and the vacuum cleaner, and supplies light to the house and fuel to the kitchen range. Indeed for the possible uses of electricity there is no measure.
Accompanying the general development bill in its passage through the House was a measure intended to promote hydroelectric development on public lands, named after the chairman of the Public Lands Committee of the House, Mr. Ferris. This bill was called for by the fact that existing legislation permitted only a revocable permit to be granted for such use, and this was regarded by engineers and financiers as too tentative and hazardous a tenure where millions of money were needed for the installation of the necessary plant.
The Ferris bill meets this difficulty by proposing a lease of these lands for a definite term of 50 years. The objection is made that the lands should be given outright. To this there are several answers of substance: No enlightened government gives such a franchise. There is danger, very real danger, too, of a complete monopolization of such power sites if the lands go forever from the people. The value of water power is not yet fully realized, and its full value can not be known at this stage in our industrial life. The purpose of the Government in transferring these lands is to secure their use, because it does not choose to use them itself, but the time may come when it may be most desirable to the full development of our life that they shall be operated by the Nation or the States or the municipalities in the States, and to transfer them forever would cast a burden upon the future which would be unforgivable, and is, moreover, unnecessary. The people desire these lands used, not held as a mere basis for speculation in stocks or bonds. Where there is need for such a plant the lands should be available on most generous terms.
At the end of the fifty-year period what becomes of the plant? If it has been so managed as to best serve the country there would be no
reason why the holding company should not have a new lease. If it had not been so managed the plant should be bought at its value by whoever the new lessee might be, or by those who took over the lands on which it was situated, the State, for instance. In other countries the plant is generally made to revert to the government at the end of the period without cost; and when it is realized that by establishing an amortization fund of one-half of 1 per cent each year the full expenditure can be refunded in 50 years, the difficulty of caring for the investment should not be insuperable.
The State owns the water, it is said, and should therefore command the right to the use of the land. This line of reasoning leads to an impasse. We are not considering rights, but what course is wise. Quite plainly the State can not command the use of the land and it is not proposed that the Nation shall command the use of the water, for no one can have the land at all unless he first gain the right to use the water from the State. We have given no other land to the State except for the sustaining of schools and colleges or for reclamation. If a State wishes coal land, it must buy it. The traditional policy of the Government has been to deal directly with the people in disposing of their domain.
The fear is expressed that by the imposition of charges for the use of the land an undue and unjust burden will be cast upon the people. The basis of this fear has not been discovered. Congress may, of course, if it so desires, fix absolutely the charge that shall be made, and if this were done the charge should be so low as to make the added burden upon the consumer, if any, an infinitesimal one; perhaps first a free period when no charge would be made, and then one-tenth of a mill per kilowatt hour for a period and two-tenths of a mill later.
As already said, with the passage of these two measures there will be no land or resource that will not be at the full service of the people. And yet the romantic enterprise of revealing America will not be done. To get from our resources their fullest use this is our goal. And this is nothing less than a challenge to the capacity of a democracy.
There are many prosaic details involved in this quest. The mining men need a new set of mining laws, for instance. The old code is so elaborate and complicated that the best of brains can not tell what the law is. The truth seems to be that between mining engineers and mining lawyers the rules of the game have been refined into ob
scurity. And if Congress were to say to the President that he might select three men familiar with mining laws and miners' difficulties to suggest a new mining code to Congress, it would, I believe, be giving in earnest a new freedom to the mining industry.
Then, too, there is the matter of the further development of Alaska. That land is a long way off. It would be too hazardous a thing to surrender these resources to local control or disposal, for those who have lived in any new country know how great the temptation is to grant away water front and power sites, forests, and other exceptional resources to those who come offering large sums for quick improvement. Yet this should not drive us into a policy that makes slow. administration a necessity. The confusion in administrative action in Alaska is well known. I have tried to give it currency that it might hasten the establishment of some method of coordinated control of Alaskan affairs, primarily in the hands of a resident commission but always in touch with and responsive to the wish of Congress and the President through one of the departments. That land has a mysterious charm, a pull which affects all who see it and those, too, who only know indirectly of its largeness, its grandeur, and its economic possibilities. This could not be better illustrated than by the number of applications for places which were received by the Alaskan Engineering Commission. When that body left for Alaska in the spring the number was over 38,000, and most of those who applied were not out of work but already held positions with railroads, in banks, on farms, or in some city shop. They wished a taste of the large life of this new land. There are many more of the same desire, some of whom will make Alaska richer by their presence and find happiness in searching out the land. And strongly would I urge that the standpoint of the Government should continue one of sympathetic cooperation.
TAMING THE RIVERS FOR USE. No one can survey the physical condition of the United States without being impressed and almost overwhelmed with the magnitude of the work that must be done in keeping our rivers within bounds and putting them to use. It is the largest task that the Government must undertake sooner or later, and the sooner in my judgment the better. This matter came immediately and most practically to my attention on a trip made in the late spring to the lower valley of the Colorado River. On the Arizona side of this river the