House Republicans will announce their 2016 budget this week, and part of that resolution may include a proposal to seize and sell America’s national forests and other public lands.
The proposal is the brainchild of Utah Representative Rob Bishop, whose state remains the only one in the nation to have passed such a measure. Three years ago, the Utah legislature passed the Transfer of Public Lands Act, which has enabled the state to sell its public lands to the highest bidder.
In a memo issued earlier this month, Congressman Bishop (who is the chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources, natch) lambasted the President’s budget for being “another missed opportunity to get our fiscal house in order, rein in spending, and encourage growth in our economy.”
In order to eliminate the fed’s “[w]asteful, duplicative, and unnecessary spending,” Bishop has proposed eliminating the barriers that prohibit government-to-government land transfers. His argument is that letting states decide what to do with these lands would save “significant management, maintenance and repair costs” to the federal government; generate state and local tax income; increase energy and resource security; create jobs; and relieve an already bloated federal budget.
Conservationists do not share Bishop’s rosy view. ThinkProgress reports that the majority of voters living near public lands “believe the proposals would likely result in states having to raise taxes, open prized recreation areas to drilling and mining, or sell lands to private interests to cover the substantial costs of management.”
Further, ThinkProgress writes that the “recent flood of state-level proposals to seize and sell off America’s public lands is the result, in part, of efforts by the Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to disseminate ‘model legislation’ to conservative lawmakers in Western states.”
The libertarian Koch brothers have often been depicted as enemies of the environment for the sake of industrial development, though their massive corporate empire and personal fortunes make for few direct ties to their agenda. ALEC, on the other hand, has a proven record of spreading climate skepticism.
Presently, special interest groups and politicians are lobbying 11 state governments to pass measures that would transfer public lands out of federal control. If they have their way, America’s beautiful, untrammeled national lands (which make up one-third of the country) will be greatly reduced, depriving Americans of their forests, parks and lands for hunting, fishing and recreation.