House GOP moves to ease federal land transfers
House Republicans are endorsing a procedural change to make it easier for Congress to transfer federal land to state or local government agencies.
The provision in the package of House rules due for a vote Tuesday would prohibit the Congressional Budget Office from taking into account lost federal revenue from energy production, logging, recreation or other uses when it decides whether a piece of legislation is revenue-neutral or would contribute to the federal deficit.
The rules package is expected to pass the House Tuesday. The change regarding federal land would make it easier from a budgetary standpoint to reduce the federal government’s land holdings, an idea that has picked up steam in recent years among some Republicans.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who supports federal land transfers, sponsored an amendment that the GOP caucus voted on to include the provision in the rules resolution.
Parish Braden, Bishop’s spokesman, said the provision aligns with Bishop’s position that moving land from federal to state or local control is in the country’s interests.
“In many cases federal lands create a significant burden for the surrounding communities,” Braden said in a statement.
“Allowing communities to actually manage and use these lands will generate not only state and local income tax, but also federal income tax revenues, as well as reduce the need for other taxpayer-funded federal support, either through Payments in Lieu of Taxes or other programs like Secure Rural Schools,” he continued. “Unfortunately, current budget practices do not fully recognize these benefits, making it very difficult for non-controversial land transfers between governmental entities for public use and other reasons to happen.”
Rep. Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, slammed the change in a letter urging his colleagues to vote against it.
“The House Republican plan to give away America’s public lands for free is outrageous and absurd,” he said in a statement. “This proposed rule change would make it easier to implement this plan by allowing the Congress to give away every single piece of property we own, for free, and pretend we have lost nothing of any value. Not only is this fiscally irresponsible, but it is also a flagrant attack on places and resources valued and beloved by the American people.”
The Center for Western Priorities agreed with Grijalva.
“Less than one day in and Congressional Republicans are already greasing the skids to give away or sell off America’s public lands, forests, and wildlife refuges,” Jennifer Rokala, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “What’s worse, politicians are using smoke and mirrors to hide the cost of stealing away our public lands, while ripping off American taxpayers in the process.”
President-elect Donald Trump spoke negatively on the campaign trail about federal land transfers, arguing that states and localities cannot afford to maintain the land.
Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), Trump’s nominee to lead the Interior Department, has also fought the Republicans on their stance on land-transfers.
Zinke last year stepped down from the committee writing the GOP platform due to the party’s position favoring land transfers.