By Glynn Wilson –
We hate to say we told you so. But it is what it is.
Donald J. Trump has not even been inaugurated president yet and the privatization of public land has already begun.
On the very day we published a video trailer talking about the commercialization and privatization of America’s national parks, on the first day of the new Congress in Washington, D.C., the House Republicans pushed through a rule change making it easier to sell off public lands for private development.
This news first became available to the American public in poorly written reports by the Washington Post and on the website of Field & Stream magazine. There is no evidence anyone involved in mainstream broadcast television news or cable news has noticed yet, probably because the talking heads that rely upon mainstream news sources for information are still obsessing over the fake news reports about the Russians hacking the U.S. election.
What the House Republicans actually did on Tuesday was to change the way Congress calculates the cost of transferring federal lands to the states and private companies, “a move that will make it easier for members of the new Congress to cede federal control of public lands.”
The insidious provision, which was included in a larger rules package approved by a vote of 233 to 190 on the first day of the 2017 Congressional session, “highlights the extent to which some congressional Republicans hope to change longstanding rules” with both houses of Congress and the presidency under Republican control when Trump is inaugurated president on Friday, Jan. 20.
Many Republicans, including House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, a conservative Republican from 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.”
“In many cases federal lands create a significant burden for the surrounding communities,” because they cannot be taxed and can be “in disrepair,” House Natural Resources Committee spokeswoman Molly Block said in a ridiculous statement that ignores the reality on the ground.
“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 said. “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.”
In a weak and failing effort to stop the privatization movement, some Democrats have argued that federal, public lands should be managed “on behalf of all Americans,” not just locals. They warn that cash-strapped state and local governments might move to sell off land that was set aside for preservation for future generations to be developed. Much of the federal land in question is already subject to private cattle grazing, logging, oil and gas drilling, fracking and even uranium mining.
Under current Congressional Budget Office accounting rules, any transfer of federal land that generates revenue for the U.S. Treasury has a cost that must be accounted for. This includes cattle grazing, logging, oil and gas drilling, fracking and even uranium mining.
Bishop authored language in the new rules package that would overturn that requirement, saying any such transfers “shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending, or increasing outlays.”
Raul Grijalva, the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee from Arizona, sent a letter Tuesday to fellow Democrats urging them to oppose the rules package, but it passed anyway.
“The House Republican plan to give away America’s public lands for free is outrageous and absurd,” Grijalva said in a statement. “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.”
Some non-profit environmental groups criticized the rule change, but their efforts were too little too late.
“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.”
Under House rules in existence before, any measure that cost the U.S. Treasury money required an offset by either budget cuts or a revenue-raising provisions. The immediate impact of the new rules change is that lawmakers cannot raise a budgetary point of order if a land transfer bill comes to the floor.
While the official Republican platform passed at the convention last summer endorses the idea of transferring federal land to the states, neither President-elect Donald Trump or House Republican Ryan Zinke of Montana, his pick to head the Department of the Interior, have embraced that approach, yet.
Zinke quit his post as a Republican convention delegate this past summer over the issue, and Trump expressed opposition to the concept a year ago in an interview with Field & Stream magazine.
“I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble?” he said at the time. “And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land.”
But it is not clear Trump will stand up to Republicans in control of Congress over such issues that just do not seem to be a big priority with the American public.
Nobody is sharing this story on Facebook, and even down in Alabama, environmental groups went along with a change to the state constitution to allow the privatization of state parks by advocating a yes vote on Amendment 2.
If the public doesn’t care enough about public lands to fight for them, they will certainly be sold off to the corporate developer highest bidder.
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers president and CEO Land Tawney issued a statement blasting Congress for the move. It is big talk. But it is not clear they have the social networking sway to get the issue in front of the public in a big way.
“Some of our elected officials are wasting no time in paving the way to steal our outdoor heritage,” Tawney said. “If it’s a fight they want, they’ve got one coming.”
Unfortunately, it appears the fight is already over, and the sleeping public lost.
Watch this Video Trialer
Confronting the corporate forces of commercialization and privatization in the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service, we interview rangers, volunteers and authors to investigate relationships between the Park Service and private concessionaires, and environmental impacts of visitors on the public landscape.
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.