PUBLIC LANDS -- Utah politicians continue to flaunt their greed in the face of Americans who support public lands.
The latest action comes from the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee who's asked budget writers to allocate $50 million to account for the costs to transfer federal land to state or local governments.
In his request, Bishop argued that “poorly managed federal lands create a burden for surrounding states and communities.”
He reasoned that divesting the federal government of its land would be good for the federal budget. It would reduce the costs of maintaining that land, he said, as well as the payments the federal government makes to local and state governments for tax dollars they can't collect.
“To allow for these conveyances to start immediately, we ask that you build in $50 million into the budget to cover possible impacts on offsetting receipts,” Bishop wrote. “The vitality of these lands, after being conveyed from the federal government, will reduce the need for other taxpayer-funded federal support, either through Payments in Lieu of Taxes or other programs such as Secure Rural Schools.”
The budget request does not mention any specific land transfers Bishop or others might propose.
But conservation groups quickly slammed Bishop’s request to use taxpayer money to help get rid of federal land.
“Make no mistake: America is wide awake to these assaults and will not let a bully like Chairman Bishop use hard-earned taxpayer dollars to ensure oil, gas and mining industries can lay waste to the forests, parks and refuges that belong to us all,” Matt Keller, senior director of conservation with the Wilderness Society, said in a statement.
Republicans from several states have been working on numerous fronts to reduce the federal estate. Utah politicians have been leading the charge:
Utah's legislature approved a federal land takeover plan last year.
- Utah legislators at first (see below) seemed determined to enter costly legal action to seize federal lands despite warnings of failure by scholars and attorneys general.
- Rep. Bishop introduced wording in one of the first actions of the 115th Congress in January to ease the way to transferring federal lands.
- Gov. Gary Herbert campaigned to oppose President Obama's designation of Bears Ears National Monument.
- The Utah governor also snubbed the Outdoor Industry Association request for support of federal public lands.
- Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) withdrew his bill to sell millions of acres of federal land after significant protests. But he didn't back off from seeking a ban of federal enforcement officers from public lands
The Utah fed-bashers and their allies are facing a significantly uphill battle in their push to reduce federal land ownership. Republicans have as a party supported such proposals, but both President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke oppose any large-scale land transfers. Zinke has promised to fight against them as the movement seems to be losing steam.
Indeed, even Utah state lawmakers recently began to re-think spending $14 million on seeking federal land transfers.