The inclusion of a public lands package in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) compromise has drawn criticism from two prominent conservative voices in the upper chamber.
Meanwhile, some Republican lawmakers are celebrating the inclusion.
“The decision to attach an extreme land grab to the NDAA is a disservice to members of the Armed Forces,” says Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), in statement. “With the military’s shrinking budget, it is offensive that this bill would be used to fund congressional pork. And, at a time where jobs are scarce and the federal government has removed billions of acres of land from productive use, Congress should not be restricting more than a half-million new acres.”
“The House and Senate should reject this attempt by self-serving politicians to exploit the men and women of the military to serve their special interests,” he urges.
According to Cruz, the “extraneous” land grab provisions in the NDAA include:
- 250,000 acres of new wilderness designations
- 400,000 acres withdrawn from productive use (for energy, mining, timber, etc.)
- Fifteen new national park units or park expansions
- Eight new studies for national parks
- Three new wild and scenic river designations
- 3 new studies for additional designations
- Study to begin the National Women’s History Museum
The federal government already owns an estimated 640 million acres of land, more than one-third of the entire country.
Breitbart News reported that the text of the NDAA compromise reached by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers included a slew of unrelated public lands measures. The NDAA is considered must-pass legislation.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), a consistent fiscal conservative who is expected to retire at the end of the current Congress, came out in opposition to the public lands package included in the NDAA compromise.
In a Nov. 19 letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), obtained by CQ Roll Call, Sen. Coburn wrote:
I am writing to inform you of my intent to utilize all procedural options at my disposal as a United States Senator, including objecting to any unanimous consent agreements or time limitations, if NDAA contains extraneous public lands provisions such as authorizing new National Park units, expanding wilderness areas, creating new National Heritage Areas, or expanding the federal land base.
Critics have accused Republicans of leading the charge of including the public lands package in the NDAA.
The NDAA agreement includes close to 100 natural resources provisions from across the nation, including eight Nevada public land provisions that have been priorities for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and his Republican counterpart Dean Heller.
In a statement celebrating the attachment of the public lands provisions to the NDAA, Sen. Heller, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, acknowledges that he “worked behind the scenes for months to attach these Nevada priorities, spurring economic development and enhancing national security, to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).”
“This is great news for the entire state of Nevada. I’ve worked tirelessly from my first days in the House of Representatives to take the lead and ensure these lands bills were top priorities. I’ve been committed from the very beginning and am glad to see the fruits of this labor,” he states. “I’m grateful my colleagues from the delegation, specifically Senator Reid and Congressman [Mark] Amodei [R-Nev.], collaborated in making these bills important action items this Congress.”
“It was not an easy lift but the needs of Nevada were addressed, and I’m happy to achieve this goal,” he adds. “As this legislation becomes law, it will not only spur economic development in our state but enhance national security as well. Those are things we should all be proud to accomplish.”
The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee also celebrated the inclusion of the public lands measures.
“As it has traditionally done, this year’s annual national defense bill contains natural resources provisions that are the result of a bipartisan agreement. Of great importance to the House is the inclusion of long-standing priorities and House-passed bills that have languished in the Senate. The agreement offers a balanced approach to public lands management, providing opportunities for new job creation and energy and mineral production, while simultaneously protecting special areas,” says Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), in a statement.
In a statement announcing the release of the NDAA text, the House Armed Services Committee points out:
The [NDAA] also includes a bipartisan, bicameral package of public lands provisions that was worked out by the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Natural Resources Committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The House is expected to vote on the NDAA compromise today.