House Republicans have approved a plan that will empower the federal government to give away federal lands to their corresponding states to do with (and potentially exploit) as they please, according to The Washington Post.
Current Congressional Budget Office accounting rules require any transfer of profitable federal land to first account for the loss of cash flow to the Treasury before it can be approved. These new changes would allow the feds to give it away without accounting for the losses, in what its critics are calling a giveaway of some of America’s most cherished public land.
“The House Republican plan to give away America’s public lands for free is outrageous and absurd,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democratic leader of the Natural Resources Committee. “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 federal government currently owns 47% of the 11 Western states. Supporters of these rule changes say that land transfer will empower states who are not currently profiting off of federal land contained within their borders.
“Allowing communities to actually manage and use these lands will generate not only state and local income tax, but also federal income tax revenues” said House Natural Resources Committee spokeswoman Molly Block. “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.”
Environmentalists groups have predicted that federal lands in Republican-controlled states will now be vulnerable to Republican state leaders eager to drill or frack these lands for state revenue.
“Right out of the gate, Congressional Republicans are declaring open season on federal lands…” wrote a representative for The Wilderness Society. “This is not Theodore Roosevelt-style governing, this move paves the way for a wholesale giveaway of our American hunting, fishing and camping lands that belong to us all.”
House GOP rules change will make it easier to sell off federal land – This, my friends, we will fight mightily. https://t.co/zHiZOAf5er
— TerryTempestWilliams (@TempestWilliams) January 4, 2017
President-elect Donald Trump has previously said in the past that he does not support the transfer of federal land to the states.
“I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble?” he said. “And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land.”
Trump’s Interior Department pick Ryan Zinke also once stepped down from the committee writing the GOP platform because he opposed transferring federal land to state governments.
The move comes a week after President Obama, perhaps predicting a move of this nature, declared over a million acres of federal land to be national monuments “to protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures, including abundant rock art, archeological sites, and lands considered sacred by Native American tribes.”
Nathan Wellman is a Los Angeles-based journalist, author, and playwright. Follow him on Twitter: @LightningWOW