GOP lawmaker withdraws bill to sell federal land

GOP lawmaker withdraws bill to sell federal land
© Greg Nash

A Republican lawmaker is rescinding his bill to sell off millions of acres of federally owned land.

Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzOvernight Finance: Trump pitches massive tax cuts | Freedom Caucus endorses plan | Dems slam framework | House GOP to move B border wall bill | Officials under fire for private jet use GOP lawmaker pushes to end sports leagues' tax-exempt status Republicans predict Senate ObamaCare repeal would pass House MORE (R-Utah) announced late Wednesday night on Instagram that he would pull the legislation after backlash from conservation and sportsmen’s groups.

“I’m a proud gun owner, hunter and love our public lands,” Chaffetz wrote alongside a photograph of him in hunting camouflage, holding a dog. 

“The bill would have disposed of small parcels of lands Pres. Clinton identified as serving no public purpose but groups I support and care about fear it sends the wrong message,” he wrote, adding that the legislation “dies tomorrow.”

The Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act called for the sale of 3.3 million acres currently owned by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management in 10 western states. Chaffetz introduced it Jan. 24, just over a week before committed to withdrawing it, and he or other legislators had introduced it in previous congressional sessions.

“The long overdue disposal of excess federal lands will free up resources for the federal government while providing much-needed opportunities for economic development in struggling rural communities,” Chaffetz said in a statement at the time.

A Clinton administration official identified the land in a 1997 memo after Congress called for a report on land that could be sold because it has not been reserved or appropriated for a specific use.

Conservation and sportsmen’s groups quickly cried foul.

“Trump’s allies in Washington laid the tracks for this land takeover scheme the moment they started their legislative session, and now they’re driving a locomotive over and through the American people and our wild natural heritage,” Alan Rowsome, senior government relations director for the Wilderness Society, said in a statement.

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a group that counts Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE Jr. as an influential member, called on its members to complain to Chaffetz.

House Republicans passed a change to their internal rules last month to make it easier to sell off federal land. It mandates that when calculating the cost of disposing of federal land, the Congressional Budget Office cannot consider future revenues the federal government could have received from the land from energy production, recreation, grazing or other uses.

When Chaffetz introduced the land transfer bill, he also reintroduced legislation to abolish the police forces of the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, leaving local and state police to enforce laws in those areas.

While giving federal land to state or private owners has support in many corners of the GOP, the idea has some key detractors.

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), Trump’s nominee to lead the Interior Department, has repeatedly said that he opposes all proposals to dispose of large portions of federal land. On the campaign trail, Trump was also skeptical of the idea.