Action Alert! Anti-Public Lands Measures Return to Congress in House Rules Changes

Last week, the new Congress doubled down on a familiar attack on our public lands through the new House rules package. Just like in 2017, it’s now easier to transfer or sell federal public lands. Learn more about this threat to our lands and waters and urge lawmakers to stand against anti-public lands attacks over the next two years.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
January 19, 2023
Action Alert! Anti-Public Lands Measures Return to Congress in House Rules Changes
Olympic National Forest. Photo by USFS - Pacific Northwest Region.

Federal public lands are central to The Mountaineers, playing host to nearly 60% of our programs and activities. Places like Mount Rainier, Washington Pass, the Olympic Coast, and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness connect us to nature and provide many public health benefits. Unfortunately, the 118th Congress spent the initial days of the new session making it easier to advance an anti-public lands agenda in the coming months.

Last week, the House passed a package of bills that set the rules governing how the chamber will operate over the next two years. Included in the package is a provision that makes it easier to transfer or sell federal public lands. This measure will likely encourage future legislation that threatens nationally significant landscapes managed by agencies like the National Park Service, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management.

Back in 2017, a similar measure was included in the House rules for the 115th Congress. Mountaineers members responded by taking action to protect our public lands and waters. In the face of this renewed threat to our lands and waters, we must continue to advocate together to protect the special places where we recreate and find joy.

Act now by sharing with your Representative why protecting federal public lands is important to you.

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This new provision enables federal public land transfers to be treated as “budget neutral.” Typically, laws are scored by how they would affect the federal budget and taxpayers. By automatically scoring all land transfer measures as budget neutral, lawmakers make it look like giving away public lands would cost nothing. In fact, public lands are a large source of government revenue, second only to taxes, that support a booming outdoor recreation economy.

This provision also bolsters efforts to cede public lands to state control, where weaker protections will open the door to privatization. States manage public lands with different mandates than the federal government, and this makes it easier to sell our public lands to developers - which means the end of access to, and protection of, these natural places.

Notably, the legislation also includes reference to tribal lands, and we acknowledge there are situations where it’s appropriate to transfer public lands management to tribes. However, this rule seems to be oriented toward extraction or privatization. A more finely calibrated approach is necessary, especially one that does not imply public lands have no monetary value.

The rules package also includes two other provisions that will likely impact public lands. One will accelerate consideration of a bill that would compel the government to lease more public lands and waters for fossil fuel development. Another provision caps spending levels for congressional appropriations, which could lead to budget cuts for the Interior Department and other land management agencies.

Act Now to Protect Public Lands

Congress has demonstrated the ability to protect and invest in our public lands and waters in bipartisan fashion through landmark initiatives like the Dingell Act (2019), the Great American Outdoors Act (2020), and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (2021). While it may be difficult for lawmakers to pass any legislation this session given the likely gridlock in Congress, the inclusion of these anti-public lands amendments is a strong signal that lawmakers are preparing to move ahead with efforts to transfer and sell public lands.

The Mountaineers and our Outdoor Alliance Washington partners will continue to reiterate the recreation community’s strong support for our federal public lands with congressional staff this year. Many members of Washington’s congressional delegation are champions for public lands and outdoor recreation, but with the recent power shift in the House, lawmakers need to be poised to defend our lands and waters over the next two years.

Congress is currently setting their legislative priorities for this new term, and now is a critical time for them to hear that protecting our federal public lands is important to their constituents. Use our action tool below to urge your Representative to stand against measures that threaten our public lands and waters in the 118th Congress.

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