This morning House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) offered his fiscal year 2014 budget, which the Wall Street Journal called “almost identical” to the Romney-Ryan presidential platform last year. In addition to cutting taxes for the rich and preserving tax breaks for Big Oil, the budget offers an extreme and flawed view of public lands and energy development.
For example, in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal last night, Ryan offered a confused vision of government programs designed to purchase lands from willing sellers:
America has the world’s largest natural gas, oil and coal reserves — enough natural gas to meet the country’s needs for 90 years. Yet the administration is buying up land to prevent further development. Our budget opens these lands to development, so families will have affordable energy.
In actuality, there are only limited instances in which the federal government buys land, which can occur via two programs. First, the Land and Water Conservation Fund uses receipts from offshore oil and gas drilling (not taxpayer dollars) to purchase inholdings from willing sellers within national parks, monuments, and other areas. As an example, a piece of the Flight 93 Memorial was protected through an LWCF land acquisition.
Additionally, there are already statutes and regulations in place that allow the government to sell or dispose of certain public lands (see, for example, Sections 203 and 209 of the Federal Land and Policy Management Act). Importantly, there must be willing sellers before the government purchases additional land to make it public, and so it is unclear what Ryan means when he says the administration is trying to “prevent further development.”
And, despite the fact that we already have a program in place to sell and dispose of federal lands, the Ryan budget explicitly calls for selling off public lands:
In the last year alone, Republicans put forth proposals to sell unneeded federal property. Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah has proposed to sell millions of acres of unneeded federal land… Such sales could also potentially be encouraged by reducing appropriations to various agencies.
Selling off public lands to then be used for extractive purposes is not supported by the American public. Indeed, a recent poll from Colorado College State of the Rockies project determined that only 30 percent of voters in six western states agreed with the statement that “too much public land” is a serious problem.
Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.