Just one of the many new aspects of life under the 115th Congress and the 45th President of the United States. The push to privatize our public lands.
House Republicans on Tuesday changed the way Congress calculates the cost of transferring federal lands to the states and other entities, a move that will make it easier for members of the new Congress to cede federal control of public lands.
The provision, included as part as a larger rules package the House approved by a vote of 233 to 190 during its first day in session, highlights the extent to which some congressional Republicans hope to change longstanding rules now that the GOP will control the executive and the legislative branches starting Jan. 20.
Many Republicans, including House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), have been pushing to hand over large areas of federal land to state and local authorities, on the grounds that they will be more responsive to the concerns of local residents.
Under current Congressional Budget Office accounting rules, any transfer of federal land that generates revenue for the U.S. Treasury — whether through energy extraction, logging, grazing or other activities — has a cost. If lawmakers wanted to give such land to a state, local government or tribe, they would have to account for that loss in expected cash flow.
Bishop authored language in the new rules package that would overturn that requirement, saying any such transfers “shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending, or increasing outlays.”
A new rule, written by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), establishes as fact that any legislation to dispose of public lands and natural resources would cost taxpayers exactly $0. This paves the way for the new Congress to get rid of vast swaths of public lands — all at the expense of the American taxpayer.
Under Congressional Budget Office accounting rules, the House is required to account for the cost of any legislation it considers. Now, the House does not need to even estimate any financial losses from giving away public land. Bills to dispose of public land will skip several steps in the normal legislative process, coming up for a vote without any discussion of the costs and benefits. The House approved the rules change by a vote of 234 to 193 on Tuesday.
Since the move applies only to House rules, it is not subject to approval by the Senate or a presidential signature. It is effective immediately.
It is an American right to roam in our public lands. The people of the United States, today and tomorrow, share equally in the ownership of these majestic places. This powerful idea transcends party lines and sets our country apart from the rest of the world. That is why we strongly oppose any proposal, current or future, that devalues or compromises the integrity of our national public lands.
Yet as the 115th Congress begins, efforts are underway that threaten to undermine over one hundred years of public investment, stewardship and enjoyment of our national public lands. Stated simply, these efforts would be bad for the American people. They include the potential of national public lands being privatized or given to states who might sell them to the highest bidder. This would unravel courageous efforts by leaders from across the political spectrum up to the present day, including Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt.
This is not a red or blue issue. It is an issue that affects our shared freedoms. Public lands should remain in public hands.
BTW, numbers! The federal government owns roughly 640 million acres, about 28% of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States. (from December 29th, 2014)
Representative Chaffetz retracts H.R. 621.
Despite this recent reprieve from further privatization of our public lands under unbridled Republican ungovernance, the provisions to allow Congress to give away public lands under H.R. 5 remain.
Here are the national results of the vote from govtrack.us.
All voting for the bill were Republicans (234), all but three voting against the bill were Democrats (193).
Here are the results of the votes from the California delegation of Representatives. Maybe keep a mental note of the Republican Representatives and talk to your niece or uncle who might live in their districts.
Coverage from The Guardian:
“The Congressional devaluation of national property is the most far-reaching legislative change in a recent push to transfer federal lands to the states. Because of the Republican majority in Congress, bills proposing land transfers could now swiftly diminish Forest Service and BLM lands across the country.
“We didn’t see it coming. I think it was sneaky and underhanded. It exemplifies an effort to not play by the rules,” said Alan Rowsome, senior director of government relations at The Wilderness Society. “This is the worst Congress for public lands ever.”
This latest effort comes on the heels of a bill adopted in 2016 that directs the Department of Agriculture to transfer 2m acres of eligible Forest Service lands to each state.
Giving away national land has been part of the Republican Party platform since the mid-80s, after Reagan declared himself a Sagebrush Rebel, but it’s regained steam in the past few years as 20 states have introduced some form of legislation suggesting that federal property be given to local governments.”
Chaffetz introduced the bill alongside a second piece of legislation that would strip the BLM and the US Forest Service of law enforcement capabilities, a move in line with the Utah delegation’s opposition to all federal land management.
“The other bill hamstrings our ability to manage and ensure that our public lands are being kept safe,” said Bobby McEnaney of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “When you have those two combined, it’s a fairly cynical approach to how public lands can be managed.”
Chaffetz’s proposal might in fact be in violation of the common-law Public Trust Doctrine, which requires that the federal government keep and manage national resources for all Americans. Courts have upheld the policy that sale or use must be in Americans’ interest.
In the small hours of Thursday morning, US congressman Jason Chaffetz announced that he would withdraw a bill he introduced last week that would have ordered the incoming secretary of the interior to immediately sell off 3.3m acres of national land.
In his statement, Chaffetz did not mention a second piece of legislation he introduced last week, the Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act (HR 622), which would strip the Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service of its law enforcement capacity. These two federal agencies have been criticized by supporters of Cliven Bundy and some Republican politicians for enforcing federal grazing laws.
While Chaffetz tagged his post #keepitpublic, a slogan that defined the opposition to his bill, it’s unclear whether the congressman or the Republican party would step back from a broader commitment to transfer national land to private entities and the states.