Bush Administration and House Democrats Oppose Bill to Restrict Federal Land Acquisition

BACKGROUND: H.R. 3962, the “Good Neighbor Act” was the subject of a U.S. House Forests and Forest Health subcommittee hearing held April 10, 2002. Under the bill’s provisions, if more than 50 percent of a county’s land is owned by the federal government no new acquisitions of land can be made by federal agencies unless the federal government sells some of its existing holdings. The federal agencies affected would be the National Park Service (NPS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

Both the U.S. Forest Service and Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM) spoke in opposition to the bill at the hearing. Elizabeth Estill, representing the Forest Service, said in some cases, “we would lose the opportunity to obtain the land.” Rep. Udall claimed the federal government owns less land than it did in the 1960s and therefore this issue is not a problem.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: Why is the Bush Administration’s Forest Service advocating more government land control when it’s private property owners who helped elect him?

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: While this bill would affect only 6 percent of all U.S. counties, it would help address problems caused by the loss of tax money to the local economies. The federal government only pays an average of 33 cents per acre in lieu of taxes to the counties while the owners of privately held land pay between $1 and $3 per acre. The federal government hasn’t been paying its fair share. This is harming the economies of rural counties.

DISCUSSION: Under H.R. 3962, if the federal government owns between 50 percent and 65 percent of the land in a county, federal agencies are required to get the governor’s approval and hold local hearings in the county before acquiring more land. If the federal government owns 66 percent or more of the county, the governor and county elected officials must approve the acquisition of additional land.

Rep. John Peterson (R-PA), sponsor of the bill, has disputed Rep. Udall’s figures on federal land ownership, according to Environment and Energy News. Peterson claimed the NPS has increased its holdings 179 percent since 1964 and the FWS’s holdings are up 285 percent.

Furthermore, the Bush administration has requested $45 million less than was funded in 2002 for payment-in-lieu of taxes (PILT)- a program that is to offset the loss of tax revenue to counties for the federal land in these counties. Many congressional members complain that this loss of income to counties has led to high unemployment in the rural areas.

by Gretchen Randall, Director
John P. McGovern, MD Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs
The National Center for Public Policy Research

Contact the author at: 773-857-5086 or [email protected]
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