House Bill Called 'Massive Public Lands Giveaway'

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

( - Environmental groups outraged that the House of Representatives' budget reconciliation bill allows the government to sell public land, called the bill a "nightmare budget" Friday.

"There must be better ways to generate revenue than selling off our national heritage," said Velma Smith, mining campaign director of the National Environmental Trust. "This is an unprecedented give-away of millions of acres of public lands to special interests at bargain-basement prices."

The measure lacked sufficient support until Republicans dropped provisions to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

"Removing arctic drilling earlier this month didn't turn this bill green -- it was already the color of money. It is a massive public lands giveaway to the oil, drilling and real estate industries," said Smith.

"There are other issues when you take the carpet of Arctic drilling out of the budget bill. There are lots of things that got swept under the carpet in the meantime, and those include threats to our public lands and our courts, and to conservation programs in agriculture," Sarah Wilhoite, legislative associate for Earthjustice, told Cybercast News Service.

Wilhoite added: "Basically they are using the bill to defund programs that help the environment and also sell off our public lands. The bill is an inappropriate way to go about these policy changes."

But not everyone sees the bill negatively.

"We do need energy production. We do need mining and logging and drilling, and in some places, that would be the best use of the land," Ben Lieberman, senior policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, told Cybercast News Service.

"Earthjustice hates private property, and they hate mining," said Myron Ebell, an environmental analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

"This will help the mining industry, and the mining industry is at very low levels now. It has virtually collapsed in many areas in the West. This could help revive it and create jobs out West," Ebell said.

Lieberman noted environmental as well as economic benefits of the bill.

"I think this bill is actually good for the environment. Right now, the federal government owns too much land -- more than 40 percent in some states in the West. So really, they can't -- and don't -- do a very good job of protecting those lands," Lieberman said.

"I think it would be better for the federal government to focus on protecting a small amount of land and revert those other lands back to the states, which could do a better job of protecting or deciding what best to do with them," Lieberman added.

Ben Porritt, spokesman for the House majority leader's office, also defended the bill. "The Republicans are setting priorities, holding the government accountable, for reforming overgrown and wasteful programs, and redesigning the way that we spend the taxpayers' money," he said.

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