Senate Committee Passes a Parade of Pork – Threatens Property Rights

A cynic might view today’s action in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as a rare example of congressional efficiency. The committee managed to pass a bevy of pork-barrel legislation that simultaneously expands the ever-growing federal estate and threatens the rights of private property owners.

The Committee’s timing is curious. Since the Supreme Court’s dreadful ruling in “Kelo v. New London,” Americans nationwide have clamored for stronger private property rights protections. Americans are also increasingly angry about wasteful spending and pork-barrel earmarks like the infamous “bridge to nowhere.”

So it makes perfect nonsense that the Senate Resources Committee would respond with a slew of pork barrel programs that threaten private property rights. Is it any wonder congressional approval ratings are so low?

Among the bills passed today:

– The “National Heritage Areas Partnership Act” (S. 278), a bill that would establish “a system of National Heritage Areas” throughout the country, thereby accelerating the creation of new national heritage areas.

National heritage areas are congressionally designated preservation zones where the National Park Service and select special interest groups (typically organizations in pursuit of a rigid preservationist, anti-property rights agenda) as a partner to manage local land use policy. In other words, they result in federal and special interest land use planning.

The federal government funds the interest groups and the interest groups spend money lobbying local governments for land use restrictions in the heritage area. In addition, the interest groups gain the added muscle of the National Park Service to strengthen their influence.

Entranced by the opportunity to siphon millions of dollars of pork back to their home states and districts, congressmen rarely pay any mind to the negative property rights implications associated with national heritage areas.

Should S. 278 eventually become law, expect congressmen to line up at the trough to get their slice of the national heritage area pie.

– Legislation (S. 289, S. 443, S. 444, S. 800, S. 955) to create five new national heritage areas, including the especially controversial “Journey Through Hallowed Ground.”

– Legislation (S. 817, S. 1182) to expand the boundaries and/or increase funding for six existing national heritage areas and corridors. Note that funding for national heritage areas is supposed to terminate after a specified period of time. This is one of the big talking points from the pro-heritage area crowd. They claim that they only need millions of federal dollars over a period of a 10 or 15 years, after which point they’ll be self-sufficient and no longer in need of federal support. To date, no heritage area has ever had its federal funding terminated. When they reach their funding expiration, they simply ask Congress to extend their funding, and Congress is only too happy to oblige. As such, heritage areas are permanent drains on federal resources, and on a National Park Service that currently suffers a multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog crisis.

– Legislation (S. 169) to grant land acquisition authority to the federal government to grab land adjacent to 10 existing National Trails.

– Legislation (S. 647) to create a new federal Wilderness Area in the state of Oregon.

– Legislation (H.R. 1100) to grant land acquisition authority to the federal government to expand the boundaries of a National Historic Site.

– Legislation (S. 637, H.R. 407) to “study” the prospect of creating two more national heritage areas.

To contact author Peyton Knight directly,
write him at [email protected]

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