Statement for the Record
U.S. Department of the Interior
House Committee on Natural Resources
Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands
H.R. 2852, "Action Plan for Public Lands and Education Act of 2011"
Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony on H.R. 2852, the "Action Plan for Public Lands and Education Act".This legislation would make land grants to 13 western states of millions of acres of Federal lands (public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and National Forest System lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service) within each state.As a result of these land grants, billions of dollars of public land revenues and resources that now benefit all Americans would be diverted instead to just 13 western states.H.R. 2852 would increase the federal budget deficit by depriving U.S. taxpayers of current revenues, and would leave to each state the decision to close off access, sell, or lease lands conveyed to the state. The bill also would jeopardize existing protections for natural, cultural, and historic resources located on public lands by taking the lands out of federal ownership.This legislation is fiscally and environmentally irresponsible and would irrevocably change America and the American West.The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 2852.
Congress has long recognized the national interest in preserving and conserving the public lands for present and future generations of Americans.In 1976, Congress declared it the policy of the United States that "…the public lands be retained in federal ownership, unless as a result of land use planning…it is determined that disposal of a particular parcel will serve the national interest" (Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA); Public Law 94-579).
The 245 million acres of public lands managed by the BLM are extraordinarily diverse.They include desert mountain ranges, alpine tundra, forests, expanses of rangeland and red rock canyons.Consistent with FLPMA, the BLM manages these lands for multiple uses:recreation, grazing, forestry, mineral development, watershed protection, fish and wildlife conservation, wilderness values, air and water quality, and soil conservation.In addition to their tremendous resources, the public lands feature countless extraordinary places, including Arizona's San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area; the world-class off-highway-vehicle (OHV) area at Imperial Sand Dunes in California (with over 1.4 million OHV visitors per year); Utah's Slickrock Bike Trail; Nevada's Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area; and Oregon's Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area – to name just a few.
The public lands contain invaluable scenic, historic, and cultural sites as well.Archaeological, historic, and paleontological properties on BLM-managed lands form the most important body of cultural resources in the United States.These include the 11,700-year-old Mesa site in the Brooks Range, Alaska, which preserves some of the earliest evidence of human migration to the North American continent, and the prehistoric Anasazi complex that extends across portions of Utah, Arizona, and Colorado.There are also historic sites dating from more recent periods, including the remains of Spanish exploration in the southwest, portions of the original trails used by settlers moving westward, and significant Native American religious sites.Public lands in several western states contain prehistoric petroglyphs and dinosaur fossils.In fact, six entirely new species of dinosaur have been discovered on BLM-managed lands in Utah.
Including BLM-managed public lands, the Department of the Interior manages nearly 500 million acres of lands throughout the United States for the benefit of the American people.In addition, the Department holds in trust over 55 million acres of lands for specific Indian Tribes.Additional Federal lands include the approximately 193 million acres managed as National Forest System lands by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the nearly 30 million acres managed by the Department of Defense.Other Federal holdings include sites conducting highly sensitive research work such as the Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Idaho National Laboratories.As detailed in the Department of the Interior's Economic Contributions Report, dated June 21, 2011, all told the Federal government holds over 600 million acres of lands that provide innumerable benefits to the American people. In 2010 alone, these benefits included:
·Oil, gas, coal, hydropower, wind power, geothermal power, and other mineral activities on Federal lands, both onshore and offshore, that supported 1.3 million jobs and $246 billion in economic activity.
·Use of water, timber, forage, and other resources produced from Federal lands supported about 370,000 jobs and $48 billion in economic activity in 2010.
·Americans and foreign visitors made some 439 million visits to Interior-managed lands.These visits supported over 388,000 jobs and contributed over $47 billion in economic activity.
·As a subset of the foregoing totals, BLM's management of Federal lands has an impact of over $122 billion on the national economy and supports over 550,000 American jobs.
The coal, oil and gas, geothermal, wind and solar energy resources of the public lands are used to meet our national energy needs, help achieve energy independence, and spur economic development throughout the United States.These public land resources assure all Americans, not only those residing in the western states, of a reliable domestic energy supply.
State Trust Lands
Most of the lands administered by the BLM are what remain from the original 1.8 billion acres – known as public domain lands -- that were acquired by the United States government on behalf of all Americans through treaty or purchase.As a condition of entry to the Union, western territories agreed that "unappropriated" public domain lands within their boundaries belonged to the people of the United States.In return for renouncing any claims, new states entering the Union received land grants under their enabling acts.The amount of federal land granted for schools depended upon the date of statehood.
Under the Land Grant Ordinance of 1785, states entering the Union after that date were granted section 16 in each township to support public schools.In 1853, California was granted two sections (16 and 36) in each township, establishing the standard grant for new states, except that Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah were granted four sections (2, 16, 32, and 36) for schools. Historically many western states have sold land given to them by the Federal government in order to generate revenues.
At one time the Federal government held title to more than 80 percent of the land in the United States.Today less than 30 percent of the land in the United States still remains in federal ownership, with the vast remainder of this land transferred to private entities and state institutions as a part of the settlement of the American frontier.Among the millions of acres that passed out of Federal ownership during this period were more than eighty million acres of "state trust lands" – lands that were granted to the newly-organized states.
H.R. 2852 – Summary
H.R. 2852, the "Action Plan for Public Lands and Education Act of 2011" would transfer large swaths of BLM and National Forest System lands from federal ownership, where they currently benefit all Americans, to the ownership of individual Western states.Sec. 3(b) allows the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming to select to receive from unappropriated public lands within each state the number of acres equivalent to five percent of the total Federal land base in the respective states, in a manner to be determined by each state legislature.The bill defines "unappropriated public lands" as all public lands managed by the BLM or the Forest Service, excluding: land that is held in trust as part of an Indian reservation; located within a United States military reservation; a unit of the National Park System; a Wildlife Refuge; a Wilderness Area designated by Congress; a National Historic Site; a National Monument; a National Natural Landmark; an Area of Critical Environmental Concern; or a Wilderness Study Area. H.R. 2852 would place the lands selected by each state in the hands of the state agency empowered to sell or lease such lands, the proceeds of which are to be used for public education.(Sec. 3(e)).
H.R. 2852 Sec. 3(b)(2) requires the Secretary of the Interior to calculate the exact acreage of Federally-owned land within each state, defined in Sec. 3(f)(4) as all land held by the United States within that state, including land held in trust, military reservations, Indian Reservations and any other land used for Federal purposes.Over 600 million acres in the western states are owned by the Federal government; five percent of that amount is nearly 30 million acres.
Finally, the intent of the legislation is that states could and would select revenue-producing public lands and resources.Under Sec. 3(d), all mineral, oil, and gas rights to the land selected by the Western States under this Act would become the property of the relevant Western State unless the Federal lessee is making royalty payments to the United States from production of minerals, oil, or gas.After the expiration of the Federal leases or the termination of production in paying quantities from the Federal lease, the entire mineral, oil, and gas estate would become the property of the relevant Western State. In addition, Sec. 3(c) of H.R. 2852 provides that selection and transfer of lands under this Act are not major Federal actions that would trigger application of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Alternate Sources of Revenues for Western States
The Administration fully appreciates the desire for additional revenue generation by Western states.It is essential that the American taxpayers—in the individual Western states and nationally—receive a fair return from those who extract value from the public lands.We strongly encourage this Committee and the Congress to consider and pass proposals in the President's FY2012 budget submission which would accomplish those aims.
Specifically, the Administration proposes changes to the mining laws that would generate significant income by moving the mining of gold, silver, lead, zinc, copper, uranium and molybdenum on public lands into the existing solid mineral leasing program.Under the proposal, new mining of these valuable minerals on the public lands would result in significant royalties in the future to both the U.S. Treasury and the state in which they are mined.Currently, no royalties are generated by mining on the public lands.
Additionally, the BLM is pursuing a rulemaking which would increase the onshore royalty rate for oil and gas from the current 12.5% of revenue (half of which goes to the individual states).This increase would provide added revenues to both the U.S. Treasury and, through the state share, to the individual state in which the development occurs.
HR 2852 – Administration Position
The Department strongly opposes H.R. 2852.H.R. 2852 is unfair to American taxpayers as it would transfer revenues and resources owned by all Americans to a relatively small number of states.It increases the federal budget deficit by depriving U.S. taxpayers of billions of dollars of current revenues, and gives away national assets that will continue to generate substantial revenues over the long-term.
H.R. 2852 would irrevocably change the character of the American West by allowing individual states to sell or lease millions of acres of public domain lands.Nothing in H.R. 2852 would prevent these states, in seeking to maximize revenues for the support of schools or other programs, from selling off their newly-acquired public lands and their resources to the highest bidder, possibly removing them forever from multiple-use and public enjoyment, and preservation for future generations.The winners at such an auction could be absentee owners, foreign governments, or corporate owners who could lock up the land, restricting or allowing activities, such as hunting and fishing, 'by invitation only.'
If H.R. 2852 were enacted, Americans would lose not only the monetary benefits but also the immeasurable benefits that can come from lands managed for the enjoyment of and use by all Americans.These include big and small game hunting opportunities, wildlife viewing, and a broad range of recreation opportunities from backpacking and camping to the use of OHV's on remote trails to sand rails on the sand dunes.Additionally, the public could lose forever the rich historical and archeological diversity of the public lands, unbroken expanses of wildlife habitat, as well the rural West's contribution to the nation's culture. Our public lands should be managed for the public good and be held for the benefit of future generations.
The Administration strongly opposes this measure that would result in a wholesale conveyance of invaluable national assets into state and likely private ownership.The Department of the Interior appreciates the opportunity to present this Statement for the Record on H.R. 2852.