The House GOP approves a provision authored by Rep. Rob Bishop that changes how Congress calculates the cost of transferring federal lands to state and local authorities, a move that opens the way for Republican lawmakers to accomplish their longstanding goal of ceding federal control of public lands.
Many Republicans, including House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), have been pushing to hand over large areas of federal land to state and local authorities, on the grounds that they will be more responsive to the concerns of local residents.
House Natural Resources Committee spokeswoman Molly Block said in a statement that “in many cases federal lands create a significant burden for the surrounding communities,” because they cannot be taxed and can be “in disrepair.”
“Allowing communities to actually manage and use these lands will generate not only state and local income tax, but also federal income tax revenues” she added, as well as reduce the need for some federally-supported payments. “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.”
But many Democrats argue that these lands should be managed on behalf of all Americans, not just those living nearby, and warn that cash-strapped state and local officials might sell these parcels to developers.
Under current Congressional Budget Office accounting rules, any transfer of federal land that generates revenue for the U.S. Treasury — whether through energy extraction, logging, grazing or other activities — has a cost. If lawmakers wanted to give such land to a state, local government or tribe, they would have to account for that loss in expected cash flow.
Bishop authored language in the new rules package that would overturn that requirment, saying any such transfers “shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending, or increasing outlays.”