Bishop wants $50M to offset federal land transfers

House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) wants $50 million in the budget to offset any costs resulting from transferring federal lands to states and localities.

The federal government generates revenue from public lands through activities like mining and grazing or timber sales. Under "existing budget conventions," says Bishop, a land transfer would be considered a loss to the federal government.

That's why Bishop asked the House Budget Committee to include a $50 million offset in its fiscal 2018 spending blueprint, according to a "views and estimates" document the chairman submitted Friday.

Earlier this year, at Bishop's urging, the House changed its rules to decree that land transfers "shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending, or increasing outlays."

The change means lawmakers cannot block a particular land transfer bill from coming to the floor. But the Congressional Budget Office still scores the legislation, potentially leading lawmakers to demand an offset.

Bishop said the budget should also include language eliminating barriers to transferring public lands to state, local and tribal governments.

Bishop, an advocate of more land management by states and localities, has argued that federal lands can be a burden to states and communities because they cannot be taxed and are often in disrepair.

"If a local government or tribe is managing the land, assuming liability risks and developing the resources, it should be entitled to the income generated by those efforts," the document said.

"Allowing individuals with local knowledge to make better economic use of the land would generate state and local tax income, as well as result in significant management, maintenance, and repair cost savings to the federal government," the document said.

'Unpopular and unworkable'

Natural Resources Committee ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said Bishop's $50 million request amounted to the chairman's latest effort "to get others to take responsibility for the costs and likely legal struggles of his anti-public lands campaign."

Grijalva said Bishop's proposal "asking taxpayers to cover the costs of his land giveaways while allowing the committee he chairs to pretend such costs don't exist" shows that the Republican "knows his anti-public lands positions are unpopular and unworkable."

The Center for Western Priorities, a conservation policy and advocacy organization focused on land and energy issues, also criticized Bishop for "asking taxpayers to foot a $50 million bill" to "start giving away America's natural resources," said Jennifer Rokala, the group's executive director.

The Outdoor Industry Association issued a statement opposing the proposal. As Natural Resources chairman, Bishop "should be the strongest champion of America's public lands," said Alex Boian, the group's vice president of government affairs.

"But instead of seeking funding for improved management of and access to these lands, Bishop continually attacks and undermines them, this time asking that the fiscal 2018 budget include $50 million for federal land transfer to states because these lands 'create a burden for surrounding states and communities,'" Boian said.

Parish Braden, communications director for committee Republicans, said the $50 million request was a reflection of some estimated costs associated with land transfers like surveying and reviewing applications, and the reality that when CBO scores bills, it doesn't necessarily incorporate the benefits to taxpayers.

Braden dismissed criticism that Bishop is trying to "sell federal parks to oil and gas companies," calling his proposals "a more sincere effort" than that.

Other requests

The Natural Resources Committee budget document also includes proposals and perspectives on several other federal programs and priorities under the panel's jurisdiction, including whether the government should acquire more federal land.

"The committee does not support acquiring additional lands until basic responsibilities are met on the 80 million acres managed" by the National Park Service, the document said.

"These funds would be better directed toward maintenance projects addressing aging and neglected infrastructure," it said. NPS currently has a deferred maintenance backlog of $12 billion.

Bishop said the panel's GOP majority did not support land acquisition by the Forest Service either "until basic stewardship responsibilities are met on the 193 million acres managed by the USFS."

The chairman cited the allocation and management of funds for combating wildfires as impeding the agency's ability to accomplish other aspects of its mission.

"The committee believes that catastrophic wildfires must be treated like any other natural disaster. Expecting the Forest Service to pay for these large mega-fires out of its discretionary budget is unworkable and unrealistic," the document said.

"Worse, funding that should be used to prevent fires is instead used to fight fires. Each year, this problem grows, and less and less of the Forest Service's discretionary budget is dedicated towards actively managing our national forests," it said.

Bishop urged the administration to amend former President Obama's withdrawal of Arctic and Atlantic waters from oil and gas leasing.

Obama aimed to make the withdrawal permanent, using an obscure provision of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and it's unclear whether President Trump can undo such protections.

By:  Kellie Lunney
Source: E&E News