Omnibus Public Lands Bill (HR 146)
House Chamber, Washington, D.C. March 25, 2009 M. Speaker: Abraham Lincoln once told of a farmer who said, “I ain’t greedy for land – all I want is what’s next to mine.”
Our federal government is starting to resemble that farmer. HR 146 is a massive land grab that would literally put more land into wilderness designation than we have actually developed. That pretty much means no human activities other than walking through it – as long as you don’t touch anything.
So I have to ask the question, when is enough, enough? The federal government already owns nearly 650 million acres of land. That is 30 percent of the entire land area of the United States. It owns 45 percent of my home state of California.
Now compare that to the District of Columbia – Washington, D.C. – the federal capital – the home to every agency in our vast federal bureaucracy. The federal government only owns 25 percent of the District of Columbia.
It’s going to cost about $10 billion to pay for this land grab – and all of the bells and whistles that are attached to it. That includes Congressional earmarks like $3.5 million to celebrate the birthday of St. Augustine, Florida and a quarter million dollars to decide what we’re going to do with Alexander Hamilton’s boyhood home in the Virgin Islands.
One billion dollars of the ten billion in this bill is for salmon population restoration in the San Joaquin River with the stated objective of establishing a population of at least 500 salmon. Five hundred salmon. One billion dollars. That comes to two million dollars per fish. And that’s without accounting for the costs that will be incurred by Central Valley farmers as water that is already in critically short supply is diverted to this project.
Overall, this bill spends $10 billion of our people’s earnings – in other words, it will cost an average family of four about $130 in taxes. I’m afraid that the mega-spending by this administration has desensitized us to any figures under a trillion dollars. But let’s try to put this $10 billion in perspective.
The National Parks Service reports a maintenance backlog of $9 billion on the land we already own. In other words, we can’t take care of the land that we already have, but we’re going to spend $10 billion on acquiring additional land that we can’t take care of.
This bill withdraws three million acres of land from energy leasing. Just from the reserves that we know about, that will cost the American economy 330 million barrels of oil and nine trillion cubic feet of natural gas in Wyoming alone.
It even allows the federal government to condemn private property where fossils are found. If you find a fossil in your backyard, you would be well advised to keep it a secret – under this bill, such a discovery could cost you your house.
This bill also means new restrictions on BLM lands. These public lands currently contribute to our nation’s economy by providing for multiple uses such as farming, ranching, timber harvesting, and off road vehicle recreation for the broader public good.
I’ve got a lot of that land in my district, and the constant complaints I get from the public are not that there is too much access to public lands – but that there is too little access and too many restrictions. This bill codifies the National Landscape Conservation System, which means less public access and more restrictions on the public’s use of the public’s land.
So I ask again, when is enough, enough? The preservation of public land is not an end in itself – it is a means to an end – that end being the public good. And the public good is not served by the mindless and endless acquisition of property at the expense of the sustainable use of our natural resources, responsible stewardship of our public lands, and the freedom and property rights of our citizens.