Capitol Hill eyes cuts to federal land purchases

Facing ballooning federal deficits, the House of Representatives is preparing to take the knife to a variety of programs, including those aimed at bringing more land under Washington’s ownership.

In the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, GOP appropriators have put forth a list of 70 cuts they want to see included in the Continuing Resolution that will keep the government funded beyond March 4. Republican lawmakers have proposed slashing $348 million from the Obama administration’s request for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which disperses tax dollars to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service for federal land purchases. Under the GOP plan, the two agencies would receive about $272 million, down from the current $480 level and far below the $620 million the White House requested.

The proposal, which is bitterly opposed by environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society, will face resistance in the Senate, where Democrats still have a majority. But with the House determined to curb spending across the board, and the federal government confronted with growing indebtedness, the LWCF appears certain to take a substantial hit.

If environmental groups are displeased, others welcome the development. The Washington-based Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) praised the move, pointing out that it would save taxpayers $1.9 billion over five years.  “The federal government currently owns roughly one-third of all U.S. land, including over half of Idaho, Utah, and Oregon and over 80 percent of Nevada and Alaska,” CAGW noted.  “As a result, the USDA’s Forest Service and DOI’s Bureau of Land Management, which make nearly all federal land procurements, have been running deficits since 1994.” “In 2003,” the group further pointed out, “the Government Accountability Office reported that the National Park Service’s maintenance backlog was more than $5 billion.  Since then, federal land acquisitions have accelerated, placing even greater burdens on an obviously inefficient and overstrained system.”

CAGW has supported suspending all government land purchases since 2009, in addition to urging the government to sell all land lacking environmental significance.

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About the Author: Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT.