Conservatives Oppose the Federal Land Grab in S. 3422

Conservatives oppose legislation that would massively increase funding for federal and state land acquisition. We recognize that the bill, S. 3422, enjoys overwhelming support from Democrats in the House and Senate, significant support from Republicans, and has been endorsed by President Trump, and therefore enactment may be inevitable. We urge Senators to approve amendments that would improve several of the bill’s more objectionable provisions.

The bill, now scheduled for the Senate floor in June, includes two titles. The first would address the multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog in National Parks and other federal lands by spending $9.5 billion of federal offshore energy revenues over five years on deferred maintenance projects. The second title would turn the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) into a true trust fund not subject to congressional appropriation and mandate that $900 million from offshore oil and gas revenues be spent annually in perpetuity on land acquisition by the federal land agencies and on land acquisition and development of recreational facilities by state and local government.

Since enactment of the LWCF in 1965, Congress has appropriated $19 billion (unadjusted for inflation). The four federal land agencies have spent $11.4 billion to acquire over 5 million acres of private land, and state and local governments have acquired over 2.6 million acres. S. 3422 would roughly triple spending on land acquisition over average historic appropriation levels.

The fact is that the federal government already owns far too much land–approximately 640 million acres or 28% of total U. S. acreage. The federal government owns more than half the land in the eleven western states and Alaska. More than 90% of the land in a number of counties is federally owned and more than 75% in many more counties.

The vast extent of the federal estate has severe negative environmental and economic consequences. As evidenced by the need for a $9.5 billion program to begin catching up with deferred maintenance, the federal government owns much more land than it can adequately manage and protect. To mention only one economic impact, federal lands are exempt from property taxes and the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program provides local governments with only a tiny fraction of lost property taxes.

S. 3422 would fund increasing the size of the federal estate annually in perpetuity, which can only exacerbate these negative consequences. It will take private land out of productive use and off the tax rolls in rural areas that can least afford it. And taxpayers will be forced to pay for maintaining these lands in perpetuity.

Moving annual appropriations at whatever level for land acquisition into a permanent trust fund is a bad idea. It is an abdication of Congress’s constitutional responsibility to make appropriations; it creates an entitlement for special interests that will be difficult to end; and it weakens Congress’s ability to reduce federal spending in the future when conditions may warrant lower spending.

If the Senate insists on passing S. 3422 despite these serious objections, then we urge Senators to approve several improving amendments. First, we suggest that the LWCF title should sunset in five years. This would make it consistent with the maintenance backlog title and makes sense because it would give Congress a chance to review the results of increased federal land acquisition before re-authorizing it.

Second, we suggest that all future land acquisition by the federal government should be contingent upon approval by the relevant state and local governments. More federal lands should not be foisted on unwilling local citizens who must live with the consequences. Instead, acquisitions should be confined to places where the people living there approve.

Third, we suggest that the use of eminent domain should be prohibited for all land acquisitions. Condemnation and the threat of condemnation (which has been used frequently over the decades to turn unwilling sellers into willing sellers) are likely to become much more common when government agencies have much more money to spend on acquisition.

Conservatives oppose continuing government land acquisition. If it must be done, then it should be done within stricter limits than currently provided in S. 3422.

The Honorable Edwin Meese III
Attorney General
President Ronald Reagan (1985-1988)
Alfred S. Regnery
Chairman, Conservative Action Project
President, Republic Book Publishers
Myron Ebell
Director, Center for Energy and Environment
Competitive Enterprise Institute
The Honorable Morton C. Blackwell
The Leadership Institute
The Honorable Colin A. Hanna
Let Freedom Ring, Inc.
L. Brent Bozell, III
Founder and President
Media Research Center
The Honorable J. Kenneth Blackwell
Constitutional Congress, Inc.
The Honorable Jim DeMint
Chairman, Conservative Partnership Institute
Member, US Senate (SC 2005-2013)
Ed Corrigan
Vice Chairman, Conservative Action Project
President, Conservative Partnership Institute
Rachel Bovard
Senior Director of Policy
Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI)
Jenny Beth Martin
Tea Party Patriots Citizen Fund
Christopher Malagisi
Executive Director of Outreach
Hillsdale College
Kelly J. Shackelford, Esq.
Chairman, CNP Action, Inc.
President and CEO, First Liberty Institute
William L. Walton
Council for National Policy
Noah Wall
Vice President of Advocacy
The Honorable T. Kenneth Cribb, Jr.
Chief Domestic Advisor
President Ronald Reagan (1987-1988)
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Club for Growth
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Family Research Council
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Scott T. Parkinson
VP for Government Affairs
Club for Growth
David N. Bossie
Citizens United
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President Reagan’s Defense and Space Negotiator
Former SDI Director
Michael Horowitz
21st Century Initiatives
Richard Manning
Americans for Limited Government
Kevin Freeman
NSIC Institute
Craig Shirley
Reagan Biographer and Presidential Historian
Rod D. Martin
Founder & CEO
The Martin Organization, Inc.
Sherri R. Martin
Executive Vice President
The Martin Organization, Inc.
Haley E. Martin
The Martin Foundation
Christina Murphy Lusk
Campaign for the American Future
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Chief Financial Officer
Martin Imaging, Inc.
Shawn A. Mitchell
Former National Chaplain
National Federation of Republican Assemblies (NFRA)
Norman Singleton
Campaign for Liberty
Lewis K. Uhler
Founder & CEO
National Tax Limitation Committee
Eunie Smith
Eagle Forum
Bishop E.W. Jackson Sr.
STAND Foundation, Inc.
Mark Fitzgibbons
President of Corporate Affairs
American Target Advertising
Susan A. Carleson
Carleson Center for Welfare Reform
Thomas Pyle
American Energy Alliance
Mario Navarro da Costa
Director, Washington Bureau
Tradition, Family, Property
Lee Beaman
Beaman Automotive Group
Randy M. Long
Long Business Advisor, LLC
William Shaker
Chief Executive Officer
Washington Marketing Group
Allen Hebert
American-Chinese Fellowship of Houston
Dr. John C. Eastman
Salvatori Professor, Chapman University Fowler School of Law
Senior Fellow, The Claremont Institute; Chapman University
Seton Motley
Less Government
Saulius “Saul” Anuzis
60 Plus Association
James L. Martin
60 Plus Association
Richard D Hayes
Hayes Berry White & Vanzant LLP
Ron Robinson
Young America’s Foundation
Michelle Easton
Clare Boothe Luce Center for Conservative Women
The Honorable Mike Hill
Florida State House
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Tradition, Family, Property, Inc.
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The Conservative Caucus
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Executive Director
Conservative Victory Fund
Dr. Richard Rounsavelle
Media Research Center
Jay Mount
MDS Communications
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Conservatives of Faith
Kielle C. Horton
The Lindsey Foundation
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Chair and President
Capital Research Center (1994-2016)
Andresen Blom
Hawaiian Values
Sheryl Kaufman
Wyoming Property Owner
Private Citizen
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Coalition for a Fair Judiciary
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American Policy Center
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Rally Forge
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Intercollegiate Studies Institute
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Lindsey Communications
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Center for Military Readiness
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Constitutional Coalition
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Director of Governmental Affairs
American Family Association

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