Days after House Republicans attempted to gut the independent congressional ethics office, they have deemed federal land essentially worthless. The provision lays the groundwork for giving away 640 million acres of land to state and local governments, who could more easily sell the lands to developers, oil and gas drillers, and mining companies.
Federal land has many uses, which include nature and wildlife conservation and leasing grounds for cattle grazing, hunting and fishing, mineral and oil extraction, and more. The Guardian reports that the government generates an “estimated $646bn in economic stimulus from recreation on federal lands and 6.1m jobs.” Currently, the Congressional Budget Office is required to account for the the revenues lost by transferring federal land.
The new rule lifts this requirement, making it a lot easier for the federal government to hand land over to state and local governments without much thought. This is something that House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) has been pushing for a while. The argument, according to a committee spokesperson, is that state and local governments will benefit from an increase in tax revenue and are better equipped to manage land in their local communities. (Studies suggest that states would actually see an increase in costs, however).
However, the move has infuriated House Democrats and environmental groups, who worry that local and state governments won’t be able to support the land, and will then sell it to corporate interests.
“The House Republican plan to give away America’s public lands for free is outrageous and absurd,” said Arizona Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, in a statement ahead of Tuesday’s vote. “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.”
“Right out of the gate, Congressional Republicans are declaring open season on federal lands,” Alan Rowsome, senior government relations director for The Wilderness Society, said in a statement. “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.”
Let’s not forget that Congress is also working hard to repeal the Affordable Care Act, defund Planned Parenthood, and President-elect Trump wants to cut funding for virtually every good thing the government does. 2017 is going to be a long, long year.