A top Republican lawmaker introduced legislation ordering the secretary of the interior to sell off 3.3 million acres of “excess” federal lands in western states.
Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s bill, if passed, would allow the Trump administration to sell parcels of federal lands to private parties and states. The land being put up for sale was identified by the Clinton administration as “suitable for sale” in the late 1990s, and makes up less than half a percent of all federal lands.
Republican lawmakers have long been critical of federal control of nearly half the land in 11 western states. GOP lawmakers argue federal agencies strangle rural economies with restrictive policies, particularly in regards to logging and ranching.
“The long overdue disposal of excess federal lands will free up resources for the federal government while providing much-needed opportunities for economic development in struggling rural communities,” Chaffetz said in a statement.
Federal agencies, for example, control 65 percent of the land in Utah. Chaffetz’s bill would make 132,931 acres of federally-controlled land in Utah eligible for sale.
Chaffetz said the Clinton administration declared the lands being put up for sale “serve no purpose for taxpayers.”
Environmentalists are already coming out against the bill, arguing it lays the groundwork for a “land takeover scheme” to transfer lands from the government to private parties.
“Trump’s allies in Washington laid the tracks for this land takeover scheme the moment they started their legislative session, and now they’re driving a locomotive over the American people and our wild natural heritage,” Alan Rowsome, senior government relations director for The Wilderness Society, said in a statement.
Rowsome seems to be equating Chaffetz bill with efforts to cede control of federal lands in the western U.S. back to states — a movement that’s gained some steam over the years among western Republicans.
Chaffetz’s bill comes amid calls from some Republicans for Trump to scale back or undo national monument designations.
President Obama has used the Antiquities Act to designate 265 million acres of public land as monuments while in office. Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop wants Trump to rollback those monument designations, which he believes harms local economies.
Utah is home to one of the first Obama monument designations Republicans want Trump to repeal. Obama put the Bears Ears national monument under stricter federal control despite intense local opposition.
Environmentalists wrote a letter to Trump’s Interior Secretary nominee Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, imploring him to oppose shrinking, or taking away the Bears Ears monument.
Zinke, who’s expected to be confirmed by the Senate, has opposed federal land transfers in the past, but it’s unclear how he will act while heading the Interior Department.
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