What do you call a billionaire hedge-fund manager who likes to hunt and fish and owns a $175 million hobby ranch with a 16-bedroom lodge equipped with a helicopter pad? According to an article in the Herald, he’s a conservationist (June 17). A good-deed doer, if you will. Next thing you know, we will be reading about the coal-mining environmentalist and his Earth-saving activities.
Here’s the rub: You don’t make a few billion dollars in the world economy without causing a bit of environmental damage. And you don’t own yachts and private islands without paying some taxes. But the cool thing about owning a ranch, albeit a very swanky one, is the tax break you get because agricultural land is not valued as a luxury item as are the yacht or polo team.
If you are super slick like this particular one percenter, you “donate” a portion or all of the ranch to the federal government as a conservation easement. But it really isn’t a donation because you still own the land, you retain use of the land and you can sell the land. In return for your “donation,” the government gives you another well-deserved tax break and won’t run power lines across “the ranch” and block your view, because now it is against the law according to the conservation easement.
It’s all a shell game to greenwash us. The billionaire and the secretary of the Interior put on a signing ceremony for the press. We all believe we are in good hands, that our purple-mountain majesty is preserved in perpetuity. Meanwhile, back at “the ranch” – the White House, that is – the president and the secretary of the interior are fast-tracking a permit for Shell Oil to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge without obtaining congressional approval. Like the conservation easement, ANWR as it is called, is a federally protected wildlife refuge in Alaska. President Dwight Eisenhower and his secretary of the interior performed a signing ceremony for that one back in 1960.
Perpetuity, conservation, protection — what’s next to be absconded? Freedom?