WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2017 - A change in House budgetary rules could make it easier for states or local governments to gain control of federal lands. The new rule, pushed by Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, would mean that transfers of federal lands to local and state governments would no longer require a spending or revenue offset to account for the value of the acreage.
The rule change has come under sharp criticism from conservation groups who want to keep public lands in federal hands. But the rule doesn’t apply to Senate procedures, and any House-passed transfer bills would still have to pass the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 majority.
“Why are we binding ourselves on a simple accounting technique? It’s stupid,” Bishop, R-Utah, said of the old rule that required budget offsets. “Take the accounting techniques out of the evaluation. Let Congress make the policy based on what is the good policy, without being held up by some ineffective and arcane accounting technique.”
Another concern of conservationists is that financially strapped state or local governments would sell off the land once it’s in their hands. Bishop say that’s easy to prevent by writing restrictions into the transfer legislation.
A wild card is Trump’s nominee for Interior, Rep. Ryan Zinke. The Montana Republican has opposed federal land transfers but voted for the rules package last week. President-elect Donald Trump also has made differing statements on the issue.
Still, Bishop thinks the House rules change is a significant step forward. “We’ll make policy decisions based on policy objectives, not necessarily trying to find the offset that we have to do this to satisfy an unfair rule.” Could a land transfer get enacted? “Yeah. Will it definitely? Not necessarily,” he said. “It’s still got to go to Congress. Congress has to decide they have to do those kinds of exchanges.”
Another rule change approved by the House could allow lawmakers to force votes to cut specific agencies or even specific government employees. It reinstates for one year what is known as the Holman rule. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy calls the rule change a “pilot program,” since it’s scheduled to expire in one year. House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, says he isn’t convinced that the rule is needed but says it will be allowed to expire if it’s abused.
#30For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com