A major goal for Republicans in the House of Representatives has been to turn public lands such as our national parks into big money. And it looks like they just got one step closer, in a truly insidious way.
A new rule was created by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) as part of a larger rules package that passed by a vote of 234 to 190 in the House of Representatives. The rule changes the way that public lands are valued — namely, that they’re worth exactly $0.
The repercussions of this bid are astounding. Under Congressional Budget Office rules, the House of Representatives must account for the cost to taxpayers every time a piece of publicly owned property is turned over to private control. With all public lands priced at $0, though, important steps related to determining and weighing these costs can be skipped altogether, making it that much easier for our leaders to turn over public property to corporations.
The backlash from higher-minded members of Congress to this has been enormous. In a statement made prior to the vote, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) seemed utterly horrified.
‘The House Republican plan to give away America’s public lands for free is outrageous and absurd. 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.’
Perhaps one of the more frightening aspects of this measure is that it applies equally to all federally owned lands. That means national parks like Yellowstone or even the Grand Canyon could be given away to companies looking to strip them of natural resources without considering the cost to taxpayers. The same could even be said for other federal property, such as the Pentagon.
Members of the GOP stand firm, however, and justify their move by saying that federal lands on state territory create an unnecessary burden on local governments. House Natural Resources Committee spokeswoman Molly Block believes that easier transfers of federal lands to state governments will be a mutually beneficial situation.
‘Allowing communities to actually manage and use these lands will generate not only state and local income tax, but also federal income tax revenues. 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.’
Democratic lawmakers, on the other hand, believe that all Americans should have the right to weigh in on the management of these lands. They also argue that, should these nationally owned places be turned over exclusively to state control, the states could auction them off to the highest bidder as soon as times get tough.
Of course, the environmental dangers have put environmental and watchdog groups on the highest alert. As senior government relations director for The Wilderness Society, Alan Rowsome seemed utterly horrified.
‘Right out of the gate, Congressional Republicans are declaring open season on federal lands… 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.’
According to ThinkProgress.org, the Outdoor Industry Association says that outdoor recreation taking place on public lands is a $646 billion industry, supporting 6.1 million jobs.
If an appeal to the preservation of public lands on their own merit won’t sway GOP lawmakers, perhaps an appeal to the cold, hard numbers will.
Featured image courtesy of Ethan Miller on Getty Images. All rights reserved. Image has been modified from its original form.