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Senate budget resolution opens the door to massive sell-off of American public lands

DENVER—The United States Senate tonight passed a budget resolution that could grease the skids for the largest sell-off of American public lands in our lifetimes. The resolution provides instructions to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to pursue fast-track legislation to raise a billion dollars in new revenue within the committee to offset proposed tax cuts. The fast-track provision both limits the amount of time the Senate can debate these new provisions and allows for those bills to pass without reaching the 60-vote threshold usually required to end debate in the Senate.

This proposal has been widely reported as a vehicle for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to industrial energy development. But Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski has admitted that she is interested in looking beyond the Arctic to raise revenue.

The Center for Western Priorities issued the following statement from Deputy Director Greg Zimmerman:

“This administration and this Congress will stop at virtually nothing to sell American public lands to the highest bidder. Our national parks, monuments, and forests have been sacrosanct for over a century. Tonight, unfortunately, we’re one step closer to seeing ‘no trespassing’ signs littering the very lands Americans have had open access to for generations, all to provide tax cuts for the wealthiest. This legislation puts all of our public lands at risk.”

In April 2014, the Congressional Budget Office provided a report on HR 2657, the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2013. That report looked at approximately 30,000 of acres of land that were sold between 2000-2011 under the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act. Those 30,000 acres brought in more than $100 million in revenue.

Extrapolating from that baseline, a bill like HR 621, which was introduced earlier this year and would require the Interior Department to sell off three million acres of public land, could bring in $10 billion or more, making it eligible for the fast-track rules passed by the Senate tonight.

Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich proposed an amendment to the budget resolution that would have ensured America’s national parks, monuments, forests, and wildlife refuges are not sold off to raise revenues. The amendment did not come up for a vote.

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