Oversight Field Hearing on "Stopping Federal Land and Water Grabs: Protecting Property Rights from Washington, DC Edicts" (National Blueways Order)
July 29, 2013
Chairman Tom McClintock
Subcommittee on Water and Power
Monday, July 29, 2013
West Plains, Missouri
Oversight Field Hearing on “Stopping Federal Land and Water Grabs: Protecting Property Rights from Washington, DC Edicts”
At the request of Congressmen Jason Smith, Billie Long and Rick Crawford, the Water and Power Subcommittee meets today in West Plains, Missouri to hear first-hand of the dangers and potential impacts of the so-called “National Blueways Order” of the Department of the Interior, and other exclusionary federal land and water management policies.
First, I want to thank my colleagues for sounding the alarm and for their leadership to restore local land use prerogatives and private property rights. They have made a convincing case in Washington.
Reading the submitted testimony from today’s witnesses made me feel reassured that the communities that I represent in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California aren’t alone. Our witnesses today will mention Draconian restrictions on timber harvesting, agriculture, tourism and other intrusions on the public’s right to access the public lands. My region has been fighting these intrusive policies for years – policies that have both harmed the environment while devastating the economy. In the Yosemite National Park, the National Parks Service is attempting to ban longstanding amenities like bicycle, raft and horseback rentals. I was interested to learn the same exclusionary policies are being attempted here as well. Perhaps by uniting the affected regions of our country we can restore the public lands for the public’s use, enjoyment and benefit, as they were intended and guaranteed.
One aspect of this exclusionary policy – and the principal focus of today’s hearing -- is the fever-dream of a leftist environmental group called “American Rivers” to declare vast watersheds as “National Blueways.”
In January, the Secretary of Interior attempted to impose this Constitutionally-suspect order on the White River, encompassing 722 miles of river and 17.8 million acres of watershed spread over two states and 60 counties. Although the administration has alleged that local consultation is a cornerstone of this order and that it came in response to local support, it turns out this was exactly the opposite of the truth. This fact should stand as an eloquent warning of the deceitfulness of these officials and the actual intent of this program.
Rebecca Wodder, the former CEO of “American Rivers,” now serves as a senior official in the Department spearheading this effort. She has refused to answer the Sub-Committee’s questions about the scope and intent of this program, or to fully explain the legal authority for usurping Congress’s Constitutional authority to designate public lands.
She has, however, assured the public that Blueways are harmless and that they merely serve as “rewards” for local areas. But as we review administration documents, we discover that the so-called rewards for the White River included imposing 180 foot buffers along all waters, seizing at least 282,000 acres of land, forcing federal conservation plans on three quarters of the region’s farms and banning human activity from flood plains.
We also know their ultimate aim. As a recent letter signed by 79 environmental advocacy groups says, “With 3.5 million miles of rivers across the country, we have only scratched the surface when it comes to establishing Blueways. There is tremendous potential to expand existing trails and create new ones.”
Fortunately, the citizens of Missouri and Arkansas saw through these smarmy assurances and fought back. Earlier this month, the Obama administration was forced to back off from imposing Blueways restrictions on the White River and two weeks ago the new Secretary was forced to declare a “pause” on the program. Unfortunately, despite repeated questioning of the Department, it is not at all clear whether the “pause” is a sincere re-evaluation of a fundamentally flawed program or just a time-out until the heat dies down.
To date, this Administration has met our requests for more information on the Blueways program with silence. They refuse to appear before Congress to answer substantive questions and have failed to provide us with documentation that we have requested. I might add that despite the sub-committee’s long-standing practice, the Democratic minority has failed even to invite witnesses to tell their side of the story. They defend the program in Washington but not in the communities directly impacted by it.
The Congress and the American People are entitled to forthright answers from this administration, not stonewalling. This is particularly urgent in light of the avowed intention by the program’s supporters to turn their sights on all 3.5 million miles of American streams and rivers.
Thank you for allowing this Subcommittee to perform its important oversight function in West Plains. We look forward to taking your message to the rest of the nation.