Environmentalists and conservationists are celebrating a hard-fought victory after public backlash forced Republicans in Congress to back away from a bill that would sell millions of acres of federal land to fossil fuel corporations and developers.
The bill in question, HR 621 also known as the “Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017”, had been pushed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), but after he received thousands of telephone calls and emails pleading with him not to follow through, he decided to back off. Chaffetz said on an Instagram post:
I am withdrawing HR 621. I’m a proud gun owner, hunter and love our public lands. The bill would have disposed of small parcels of lands Pres. Clinton identified as serving no public purpose but groups I support and care about fear it sends the wrong message. The bill was originally introduced several years ago. I look forward to working with you. I hear you and HR 621 dies tomorrow. #keepitpublic #tbt
Had the bill not be rescinded, it would have allowed for over 3.3 million acres, spread out over 10 states, of American wilderness to be sold to the highest bidder. A “small parcel” indeed. The rationale for selling the land was two-fold. It would have saved the government from having to spend money caring for the land, and the profits from the sales would have been directed into the treasury to be dispersed later. This plan was spoken about by Chaffetz when he originally proposed the bill:
The long overdue disposal of excess federal lands will free up resources for the federal government while providing much-needed opportunities for economic development in struggling rural communities.
The sale money was supposed to go pay off the national debt, but knowing Republicans they likely would have spent the funds elsewhere. Therefore it was surprising to see Chaffetz kowtow to his supporters, as how often does one see a Republican turn down profits?
Furthermore, the land in question was going to be sold to various oil corporations for next to nothing because immediately after the new Republican congress was sworn in, they changed the law to make the sale of Federal land cheaper. They did this by not allowing the value of the land to be determined by potential future revenues generated by the land.
Meaning if the land had oil, but it was not actively being pursued, the value of that oil is not considered in the price. It would have been a boondoggle for corporations looking to snap up American wilderness in pursuit of oil and other resources for pennies on the dollar.
Chaffetz is not to be cheered, however, for his policy reversal as he remains a despicable political figure. He rose to public infamy after he confirmed, and agreed with, cutting the funding to U.S. embassies including Benghazi prior to the embassy being attacked.
Lou Colagiovanni is an investigative journalist living in Las Vegas who specializes in politics and crime. His work has been highlighted all over the world and he is regularly featured on television and radio.