Despite new public opinion research unveiled this week showing that Americans overwhelmingly fault House Republicans for the recent government shutdown and subsequent closure of national parks, the House Committee on Natural Resources on Thursday discussed a bill that would enable state governments to manage national parks and other public lands (despite the fact that the concept of turning public lands over to states and private companies has been shown to be highly unpopular among voters in the West).
The “State-Run Federal Lands Act” (H.R. 3294), sponsored by Representative Don Young (R-AK), would allow states to petition to take over management of any federal lands within their jurisdictions, including national parks.
Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said during the hearing today that the bill “treats Uncle Sam like Uncle Sucker,” noting that though it would allow states to manage federal lands and the resources they contain — including through expanded mining and drilling — federal taxpayers would still assume all legal liabilities for the lands.
This bill follows a series of state legislative efforts in Utah, Arizona, and five other states (and supported by conservative front groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity) to require the federal government to turn over millions of acres to state ownership.
Also on the docket at the hearing today was a bill that would enable states to automatically take control of national parks if the government shuts down, which appears to be aimed at making it easier for Tea Party Republicans to shut the government down again without being blamed for closing national parks. As Grijalva put it:
From what I can tell today, this hearing is about creating cover for members who finally felt the sting from voters upset that their views were not being represented in Congress.
Recent polling from Hart Research commissioned by the Center for American Progress shows that voters do not approve of the cuts and closures that the Tea Party has delivered to national parks since taking control of the House in 2010. In particular, 82 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of independents, and 64 percent of Republicans say that Congress should not “make additional cuts in the spending that goes to protect and maintain national parks and other public lands?”
It also shows that only 19 percent of voters believe that Republicans in Congress are “doing enough to protect national parks and public lands for future generations.”
In addition to hearing these bills in committee today, the Republican-led House of Representatives spent its time this week passing three bills to speed up oil and gas drilling in the U.S., despite the fact that for the first time since 1995 the U.S. is exporting more oil than it is importing from foreign countries. One of these bills goes so far as to mandate the imposition of a $5,000 penalty on any citizens who protest an oil and gas lease sale on federal lands.