Republican Congressmen would love to keep you distracted with the healthcare battle. And while that fight is of huge importance, they’re using that publicity to quietly pave the way to toss away 640 million acres of American land – even if the government loses money on the transaction. In the rules for the 115th Congress, lawmakers altered one little line that has the potential to allow the government to callously throw away national treasures.

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The line reads, “In the One Hundred Fifteenth Congress, for all purposes in the House, a provision in a bill or joint resolution, or in an amendment thereto or a conference report thereon, requiring or authorizing a conveyance of Federal land to a State, local government, or tribal entity shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending, or increasing outlays.” What that jargon basically means is Congress has made it easy to dispose of federal land. That single line allows them to skirt requirements that a bill handing over federal land must not decrease federal revenue or add to the government’s debt.

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In essence Congress is denying federal land possesses any value whatsoever, according to the Guardian, which said such lands may include spaces near the Grand Canyon.

The land in question is far from worthless. It provides 6.1 million jobs, and around $646 billion yearly in economic stimulus due to recreation. Some federal land is already leased to energy and logging companies, and generated $2 billion in royalty revenue in 2016 alone, according to the Bureau of Land Management. Federal tax revenue from recreation was nearly $40 billion, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

If land is transferred to states, as some Republican representatives wish, large quantities could go towards property or energy development, and public access could be limited.

The Wilderness Society Senior Director of Government Relations for Lands Alan Rowsome told The Guardian, “We didn’t see it coming. I think it was sneaky and underhanded. It exemplifies an effort to not play by the rules. This is the worst Congress for public lands ever.”

Via The Guardian

Images via Wikimedia Commons (1,2)