New Congress to scrap policy that made it easier to sell off lands

Visitors enjoying Canyonlands National Park, UT

Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society

Rules package would repeal budget standard championed by Rep. Rob Bishop

A new rules package released by leadership in Congress aims to “[end] the public lands giveaway” by reversing a controversial budget policy that emboldened large-scale selloffs. 

“Americans who appreciate our great outdoor heritage were outraged when Republicans voted on the very first day of the 115th Congress in 2017 to rig the system to make it easier to sell off national public lands,”said Drew McConville, senior managing director of government relations for The Wilderness Society, in a statement. “We applaud Speaker-designate [Nancy] Pelosi and other leaders for moving quickly to reverse the anti-conservation policies of the previous Congress. Let’s all hope this marks the start of a Congress that will protect, not sell off, our priceless public lands and waters.”

On the first day the current Congress was in session, in January 2017, Rep. Rob Bishop inserted a budget measure in a broader set of rules that said lawmakers would no longer need to account for lost revenues from nationally managed public lands if they decided to give those places away to state or other interests. 

The old rule famously enabled legislation that would have sold off millions of acres of public land in western states

Under the Bishop rule, the Congressional Budget Office, which provides lawmakers with data so they can make budget decisions, effectively considered public lands to have no monetary value. This move was designed to make it easier to give away public lands, a longstanding goal of Bishop and his cohort in the Federal Land Action Group.

That framework famously enabled legislation by then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz that would have sold off millions of acres of public land in western states in order to reduce the federal deficit. Chaffetz’s proposal proved deeply unpopular, and he withdrew it days later amid heavy criticism from his constituents and conservationists across the country.

A new day is about to dawn in Washington, DC. Like many of the results in November’s midterm elections, the anti-selloff rule serves as a rebuke to the old anti-conservation regime and the Trump administration’s historic “land grab.” We look forward to working with new allies in the 116th Congress to protect public lands and waters and aggressively pursue action to address climate change and ramp up renewable energy development.