U.S. House Eyes Plans to Dispose of Public Lands

In its first vote as the 118th Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a rules package containing a provision intended to pave the way for transferring or selling off federal public land. The provision says lawmakers can ignore the costs of transfers of public land, as if they have no cost to the federal government or taxpayers.

Outdoor Alliance, a non-profit that works on behalf of the human-powered outdoor recreation community to protect public lands and waters, is calling out this developing effort and encouraging people to speak out against it. A similar move in the House in 2017 was met with widespread outrage. The Outdoor Alliance team encourages the public to use a quick and easy contact form on its website to tell House members about their concerns regarding this provision.

“Lawmakers have tried to dispose of public lands before, and they apparently will try again,” said Adam Cramer, CEO of Outdoor Alliance. “They need to know that the American people do not want to see our public lands given away. Public lands are enormously popular among Americans across political identities, and we’ll fight to make sure lawmakers know that.”

This provision (sec. 3g), a replica of the land transfer provision attempted in 2017, is a trial balloon to test Americans’ willingness to see public lands sold off, according to Cramer.

The rules package, passed on Jan. 16, governs how the House will operate over the next two years, and this provision enables public land transfers to be treated as “budget neutral.” Typically, laws are scored to see how they would affect the federal budget and their cost to taxpayers.

This budgetary maneuver is designed to make it look like giving away or selling public land would cost nothing, Cramer said. In fact, public lands are a large source of government revenue and the foundation of the growing outdoor recreation economy and the well-being of many communities. National Parks, National Forests, BLM lands, and Wildlife Refuges are invaluable for the climbing, hiking, camping, paddling, mountain biking, and skiing opportunities they provide. This amendment essentially allows Congress to give away or sell public land without considering costs to the American people.

The House rules package also contains a provision to set up debate on a bill that would compel the government to lease more public lands and waters to fossil-fuel developers. At a time when the country needs to be transitioning toward renewable energy and reducing its dependence on fossil fuels, requiring the government to arbitrarily lease off public lands and waters for development is the wrong approach. Finally, there is an additional provision around congressional appropriations, which caps spending levels and could ultimately lead to budget cuts for the Interior Department and other land management agencies.

The passage of these provisions is a harbinger of bad ideas to come, Cramer said. While it may be difficult for lawmakers to pass any legislation this year, especially unpopular proposals given the likely gridlock in Congress, the inclusion of the provision is a clear sign that lawmakers are looking for a license to move ahead with disposing of public lands.

Outdoor Alliance believes it is incredibly important—and highly effective—for constituents to respond to these rules. The Outdoor Alliance team has made it incredibly quick and easy to write a message to your House members expressing concern about this provision. To do so, please visit this page on the Outdoor Alliance website.

Photo credit: Ben Kitching, Mt. Jefferson, Oregon