Natural Resources Committee Oversight Field Hearing: “Improving Federal Land Management and Use to Better Serve Las Vegas Valley Communities”
Opening Statement of Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock
House Committee on Natural Resources
Subcommittee on Federal Lands
I want to thank Chairman Bishop and Congressman Hardy for holding this hearing today and to thank both of them for their leadership in the House on behalf of so many communities throughout the West that are affected by federal land ownership.
As I flew in today I couldn’t help but notice how vast are the empty and unutilized lands of Nevada, stretching as far as the horizon. And then I reflected on the testimonies of our witnesses today, who tell of how the region’s economy suffers from a great shortage of land – for homes and shops, businesses and infrastructure. What an irony – and what a commentary about the harm that is being done by the decisions of our federal land managers.
I am also struck by the complete disconnect between the written testimony of the BLM’s director for the State of Nevada and the testimony of the locally elected representatives of the people of Clark County.
The federal land manager boasts of the collaborative and cooperative relationship he has fostered between the federal and local governments. He tells of his abiding interest in accommodating the prosperity of the region in his decisions. Yet Clark County’s elected representatives tell a very different story of BLM indifference, micro-management and interference in critical land use decisions.
In addition, we will hear testimony that BLM mismanagement is doing enormous economic harm to the region, threatening increasing unemployment, stagnating or declining wages and a deteriorating quality of life for the people of Southern Nevada.
Congressman Hardy has often spoken of this in our Committee, but I don’t think I ever fully appreciated the extent of the problem in southern Nevada until his invitation to come here today.
The Federal Lands Subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee is pursing three over-arching objectives: to restore public access to the public lands; to restore sound management of the federal lands; and to restore the federal government as a good neighbor to the communities directly impacted by the federal lands. The written testimony today tells me we have a long ways to go.
I’m particularly concerned with testimony that the BLM gives short shrift to the economic impact caused by its decisions involving the roughly 85 percent of Nevada that it controls. This has obviously created an artificial land shortage in one of the most expansive and undeveloped regions of our country and is damaging the economy of southern Nevada.
I am incredulous to learn that, once Congress has provided for the use of lands for critical public safety purposes such as flood control, the BLM would directly and deliberately interfere with the operation of these facilities in the most incompetent manner conceivable.
I also want to hear more about reports that BLM is requiring homebuilders to obtain mining permits for the simple act of grading lots. This ludicrous interpretation of BLM’s authority is significantly inflating the cost of new housing, impeding the economy, causing uncertainty in the residential sector, and pushing young families out of the new home market.
The testimony suggests that working with the BLM here has become an onerous, expensive and time-consuming process. It also suggests an attitude at BLM that the federal bureaucracy knows the needs of local communities better than the local communities themselves.
BLM is currently revising the Las Vegas Field Office Resource Management Plan, which guides the management of BLM lands around the city and includes BLM’s decisions regarding parcels of land that have already been leased to the County or other municipal entities and the identification of parcels for potential disposal or lease.
Today I would urge the BLM to craft a Resource Management Plan that accommodates economic growth in the city, identifies adequate parcels for disposal or lease, and doesn’t needlessly lock up lands needed for economic development, infrastructure, housing or other community projects.
Finally, I am interested in learning today how much of this harm is created by ideological zealots in this administration, and how much is a result of laws that Congress needs to reform.
The committee is here today to take note and to make change, and I once again thank Congressman Hardy for his insistence that we come here to see for ourselves.
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