House approves rule change to ease public land sales or grants

The Little Grand Canyon, which is part of the region known as the San Rafael Swell in Utah, is on public land. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

The U.S. House of Representatives acted on the first day of the 115th Congress to ease obstacles to transferring public land out of federal ownership.

Voting on a set of rules that set prerequisites to consideration of bills by legislators, the GOP-dominated House eliminated a that bills relating to public land transfers account for financial losses by the government when the land is sold or given away.

The current rules of the Congressional Budget Office mandate that transfers of any federal acreage that can be used to produce revenue for the U.S. Treasury be deemed to have a cost.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, pushed successfully for language providing that transfers “shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending, or increasing outlays.”

Bishop has been an advocate for reducing the size of the federal estate. A spokesperson for the Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs, said that the change to the CBO rule is necessary because “in many cases federal lands create a significant burden for the surrounding communities.”

The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., wrote to fellow Democrats and urged them to fight the Bishop proposal.

“The House Republican plan to give away America’s public lands for free is outrageous and absurd,” Grijalva said. “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.”

Many state and local governments lack the fiscal and personnel resources needed to take on management of federal land.

The rules package was approved on a 233-190 vote.

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