Freedom First Society

Issue: H.R. 1957, Great American Outdoors Act.  Question:  On Motion to Concur in the Senate Amendments.

Result:  House passed 310 to 107, 13 not voting.  The senate had earlier introduced and passed the measure as an amendment to an old House bill as the vehicle (Senate Vote 121, 6-17-20).  Became Public Law 116-152 (signed by the President, 8-4-20). GOP and Democrats scored.

Freedom First Society:  As passed by the Senate, the Great American Outdoors Act would enable the federal government to purchase new lands in perpetuity.  In some states, the Federal government already owns nearly two-thirds of the land. That’s outrageous.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the legislation would add $17.3 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade.

Much more seriously, this Act continues a decades-long, unconstitutional revolutionary drive to abolish totally the right of individuals to own property.  Note:  A majority of House Republicans voted against this Act, but only two Democrats.

We have assigned (good vote) to the Nays and (bad vote) to the Yeas. (P = voted present; ? = not voting; blank = not listed on roll call.)

Congressional Research Service Summary for S. 3422 (which replaced H.R. 1957 thru amendment)
Shown Here:
House agreed to Senate amendment (07/22/2020)

Great American Outdoors Act

This bill establishes the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to support deferred maintenance projects on federal lands.

For FY2021-FY2025, there shall be deposited into the fund an amount equal to 50% of energy development revenues credited, covered, or deposited as miscellaneous receipts from oil, gas, coal, or alternative or renewable energy development on federal lands and waters. Deposited amounts must not exceed $1.9 billion for any fiscal year.

The fund must be used for priority deferred maintenance projects in specified systems that are administered by

the National Park Service,

the Forest Service,

the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,

the Bureau of Land Management, and

the Bureau of Indian Education.

The Government Accountability Office must report on the effect of the fund in reducing the backlog of priority deferred maintenance projects for the specified agencies.

Additionally, the bill makes funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) permanent. The President shall annually report to Congress specified details regarding the allocation of funds to the LWCF. Congress may provide for alternate allocations using specified procedures.

Analysis:  According to Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), the bill’s sponsor: “The Great American Outdoors Act combines two pieces of legislation:  the crown jewel of our conservation programs across the Nation, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the Restore Our Parks Act. The  Restore Our Parks Act focuses on the catching up with the maintenance backlog in our national park systems.”

Our primary focus will be on the Gardner “crown jewel,” the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which enables the Federal government to purchase land.  The fund was originally established in 1965 and reauthorized last year by Congress (see Senate Vote 22 on S. 47,  National Resources Management Act, officially titled as the “John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act”).  President Trump signed the “National Resources Act” into law on 3-12-19.

The National Resources Act provided permanent authorization of the deposit provisions of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which the Sierra Club claimed “may be the most important federal conservation program that you’ve never heard of.”  This year’s Great American Outdoors Act would permanently fund the LWCF at $900 million per year.

Subversive objective
What is not advertised, however, is the underlying subversive campaign that the Land and Water Conservation fund supports and the forces behind the campaign.  To understand the campaign, we need to review a little history (a book could be written).

In 1848, Karl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto as a program for Communists and socialists.   In it, he listed ten planks that were designed to transform the most advanced countries into Communist (totalitarian) States.  The first plank calls for “Abolition of property in land and application of all rents in land to public purposes.”

But the Manifesto was even more explicit re the importance of targeting private property to the socialist/Communist movement.  According to the Manifesto, “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: abolition of private property.”

That goal has been adopted by all varieties of collectivists: communists, socialists, fascists.  The leaders of the most the most ruthless and bloody totalitarian regimes of the past century (e.g., Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot) implemented that program with a vengeance.  In so doing, they liquidated millions.

Many great minds rejected that agenda and explained why the right to private property provides essential support for freedom.  Justice Joseph Story, whom President James Madison appointed to the Supreme Court, argued:  “That  government can scarcely be deemed to be free when the rights of property are left solely dependent upon the will of a legislative body, without any restraint. The fundamental maxims of a free government seem to require that the rights of personal liberty and private property should be held sacred.”

More recently, in his 1944 classic The Road to Serfdom, economist Friedrich A. Hayek wrote:  “What our generation has forgotten is that the system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not. It is only because the control of the means of production is divided among many people acting independently that nobody has complete power over us, that we as individuals can decide what to do with ourselves.”

So it’s easy to see why would-be totalitarians target private property.

Radicals convene at Rio
It recent decades, socialists and Communists, with Establishment and Internationalist support, have championed that goal under the masquerade of environmentalism and conservation.  (Recounting their various schemes to eviscerate property rights could easily fill books.  So here we highlight just a few of the developments.)

We will start by looking at the UN’s 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.  Rio brought together socialist and Communist leaders (UN members) from around the world (plus U.S. Internationalists) to forge a totalitarian agenda under the pretext of saving the planet from environmental catastrophe.  In particular, the Summit gave us Agenda 21, a massive environmental manifesto.  We cite two of its statements:

  • “All countries should undertake a comprehensive national inventory of their land resources in order to establish a system in which land will be classified according to its most appropriate uses….”
  • “All countries should also develop national land-management plans to guide development.”

Agenda 21 was far from the only environmentalist “fruit” from Rio. The Global Biodiversity Assessment (GBA) also crossed swords with the rights of property.

The Rio Earth Summit took place during the administration of George H.W. Bush (the senior), a former Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) director and Trilateral Commission member.  His main representative at the Earth Summit was EPA Administrator William Reilly, also CFR.  Previously, Reilly had served as executive director of a land-use task force chaired by Laurance S. Rockefeller. (Of course, the task force promoted land-use controls and expropriation.)

More examples of the attack
In 1991, Congress was considering the Northern Forest Lands Act.  The Act would have empowered a Northern Forest Lands Council to exercise “greenlining authority” over 26 million acres in Northern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.  At stake were the homes, property and livelihood of one million people.  Thankfully, the measure was scrapped as a result of strong informed grassroots opposition.

 In November 1991, leading up to Rio, Reed Noss and Dave Foreman launched the Wildlands Project.  Reed Noss was an environmental journalist and Dave Forman the leader of the radical Earth First!  Their Wildlands Project was based on a brainchild of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the foundation-funded environmental lobbyist community. The Wildlands Project proposed “re-wilding” literally half of the U.S. land area.

In the January/February 1974 issue of The Center magazine, Tom McCall, governor of Oregon at the time, wrote approvingly:

The Rockefeller Task Force on Land Use … has said that, beginning now, development rights on private property must be regarded as being vested in the community and its well being rather than the fact of ownership.

The Constitution does authorize Congress (Article 1, Section 8) to acquire land, with the consent of the state in which the land is located, “for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, and other needful buildings.”  But the Great American Outdoors Act passed by the Senate violates that provision by not requiring the consent of the state.

It is well also to recall the 9th and 10 amendments to the Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights.  They affirm that rights not specifically delegated to the federal government are retained by the States or the people.

America’s Founding Fathers never intended for the federal government to become a gigantic landowner.  Yet despite clear intent, the federal government is a major landholder in the 13 western states.  And land grab schemes, for which there is no constitutional authorization, have targeted the other states.

Excerpts from the Congressional Record (7-22-20) [Emphasis added]:

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah 01), Ranking Member House Committee on Natural Resources:
“Let’s get a couple of things very clear.  First of all, this is not about the Land and Water Conservation Fund. We reauthorized permanently the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the last Congress, and in doing that, in a House Republican bill, I might add, we took the State-side projects–these are the kinds of things like easements and picnic grounds and roads and parks that your constituents are all telling you that they like, those are called the State-side projects–and we actually increased the funding for those programs.

“We also put in that act a limitation on the amount of money that could be used to buy more land. This bill is about that concept, the limitation of land acquisition. The special interest groups have been putting pressure on you and are giving you misinformation about this particular thing. They simply want to circumvent the limits that were pushed in that bill that was there earlier.

Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA 04):
“Mr. Speaker, the hunters and anglers, farmers and ranchers, and hikers and recreationists of central Washington are passionate advocates for access to public lands.

“I strongly stand behind my constituents in supporting the restoration of our national parks, our public lands, and Federal infrastructure. That is why I am proud to cosponsor the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act to address our country’s deferred maintenance backlog in those areas. If that bill were brought to the floor before us today, I would be a resounding ‘yes.’

“Unfortunately, that is not the bill that we are debating here this afternoon. So while I agree with many provisions within the Great American Outdoors Act, I fear that the sweeping nature of this legislation will have unintended consequences for rural communities like mine in Washington’s Fourth District….

“We have already determined the Federal Government’s culpability in creating a $20 billion maintenance backlog problem on our public lands. So the response is to permanently spend $900 million a year, most of which will be spent on what? Get this, Mr. Speaker: purchasing more Federal land.

“The farmers, ranchers, and hardworking men and women of my district support local management and control of our lands. We have seen firsthand the delinquency of the Federal Government, and I think we should work to continue to support our national parks but vote this bill down.”

Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK 01), Member House Committee on Natural Resources:
“Mr. Speaker, in the wake of a global pandemic unlike anything we have seen in our lifetime, we have spent unprecedented amounts of money this year. We have already saddled the next generation with unthinkable debt. Digging our way out of this hole is going to take time and targeted effort. We cannot continue to spend as if our debts don’t exist.

“This legislation needlessly increases the deficit. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is already incredibly well-funded, does not need an additional $900 million a year in perpetuity. With immediate health needs and economic recovery our top priorities, increasing the Federal real estate holding shouldn’t be on anyone’s to-do list.

“A recent report showed that 40 percent of LWCF funds went to projects that failed to advance any agency objectives. The oversight and accountability of the fund is laughable, but this bill seeks to exacerbate the lack of transparency by removing elected officials from the situation altogether and handing unilateral power to political appointees and unelected bureaucrats.

“There are more productive ways that we should spend our time this week, and I urge my colleagues to vote ‘no’ on this bill.”

Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA 02), member House Committee on the Judiciary:
“Mr. Speaker, let me say that the goal of the bill is positive, but how it is achieved is just flat wrong.

“To pay for this legislation, what we do is go straight to Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas and take $1.9 billion a year of potential revenue to those States to uplift their people to pay for this bill.

Rep. Garrett Graves (D-LA 06), Member House Committee on Natural Resources:
“I have been sitting here listening to this debate over the last several minutes, and I have no idea what planet people are on right now.

“There is a global pandemic right now. What this legislation does is it takes everything else and puts it on the back burner. That is right. Unemployment assistance goes behind this; job opportunities go behind this; improving our schools and getting our kids actually educated go behind this; medical care for our seniors goes behind this because this is mandatory spending.

“Mr. Speaker, I have heard Members sit here and say that we have a $20 billion maintenance backlog. Do you know why that is? Because we failed to appropriate the money because we have determined it is not a priority in the appropriations process.

“Why are we now stepping in and circumventing that whole process again, Mr. Speaker, in the middle of a pandemic to determine that this is the greatest priority?

“Mr. Speaker, let me give you an analogy of what this bill really does. This is like someone going over to their neighbor’s house, taking their credit card, and going out there and using that credit card to get a new address sign in their front yard and maybe to get a new coating of paint on their house. Meanwhile, that person who took the credit card has multiple cars and has an expansive real estate holding and never thought once about their own financial situation but instead took the credit card of their neighbor who is maybe up to their neck in medical bills because their spouse is on their deathbed. That is what this bill does.

“I have heard people say: ‘Well, oh, this is not taxpayers’ money.’

“Whose money is this? What dream world are you living in? This absolutely is funds that are taxpayer funds.

“‘Oh, but it comes from energy revenues.’

“Where do those go? They go into the general treasury. This isn’t excess money. This isn’t some money tree.

“Mr. Speaker, let me tell you about one of the most offensive things about this bill that my friend Cedric Richmond, Congressman Richmond, talked about. And he tried to address this in committee by proposing a bipartisan amendment with Congresswoman Sewell, with Congressman Bennie Thompson, with Congressman Scalise, with myself, and others, a bipartisan amendment to fix this.

“Virtually all of the money that this bill is spending comes from energy production off the coast of Louisiana. This bill, as many have said, this goes on in perpetuity. In 5 years, we are spending $1 billion a year; in 10 years, $1 billion a year; in 50 years, $1 billion a year; in 100 years, $1 billion a year.

“Mr. Speaker, do you realize that today 28 percent of this country is owned by the Federal Government–28 percent?

“The sensible thing to do is to look at those assets, determine which of, for example, the nearly 75,000 different National Park’s units and assets still make sense today. You just heard my friend talk about how 40 percent of these funds historically have been used for projects that don’t advance the mission of the very agency they are supposed to be advancing.

“This is a tone-deaf piece of legislation. It is mandatory spending. It is putting this as a higher priority than everything else, including that we are in a global pandemic. We have record unemployment.

“Whose idea was it to do this? This is absolutely crazy.

“Mr. Speaker, I urge opposition to this legislation. I urge common sense, and I urge that we sit down and actually address some of the priorities.”

Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho 01), Member House Committee on Natural Resources:
“Currently, about two-thirds of Idaho’s land mass is controlled by the Federal Government. That means less property tax, more D.C. bureaucracy, reliance on grant programs like Secure Rural Schools, Payments in Lieu of Taxes, and the ramifications of associated strings inevitably attached.

“I am also concerned about our growing national debt, now over $24 trillion. And while I appreciate that this bill utilizes revenue streams from future oil and gas receipts, it is still ultimately taxpayer money. That authorizes permanent funding, and any time there is permanent funding, that also raises a red flag.

“Mr. Speaker, to be a wise steward of the people’s money, Congress should regularly reevaluate programs that it funds, not automatically renew appropriations.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif. 12), Speaker of the House:
“Mr. Speaker, as a Californian, as an American, as Speaker of the House, I proudly rise in support of the Great American Outdoors Act, one of the most important conservation and public lands bills in decades.

“This legislation builds on the progress made here by House Democrats and others earlier in our majority when we passed the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, named for our former colleague, a fitting testament to Chairman Dingell’s legacy, which made permanent the authorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund….

“House Democrats are proud to pass this bill and send it on to the President’s desk. We hope to do so in the strongest possible bipartisan way, as it passed the United States Senate.”

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz. 04), Member House Committee on Natural Resources:
“Mr. Speaker, today is a very swampy day, and I am not talking about the weather. Today, Congress will pass a bill that is, frankly, a demonstration of everything that is wrong with Washington.

“The Great American Outdoors Act is a product of special interests, written not by committees, but in back rooms, full of special interest provisions, and now being forced through this Chamber without the opportunity for us to amend it.

“This is permanent legislation, yet we can’t take an extra hour in the House to consider amendments to make this legislation better? Why? Because the special interests that have paid nearly $100 million in lobbying can’t be denied another day from their victory. Well, I guess they got what they bought.”

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif. 04), Member House Committee on Natural Resources:
“Mr. Speaker, I represent the Sierra Nevada of California. Yosemite Valley, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, and Lake Tahoe are all within my district.

“The Yosemite Land Grant Act signed by President Lincoln in 1864 was the first time the Federal Government set aside land for ‘public use, resort, and recreation . . . for all time.’

“Today, the Federal estate has grown to 640 million acres. That is 28 percent of the land area of our Nation. While the Federal Government owns just seven-tenths of 1 percent of New York State and 1.8 percent of Texas, it owns 46 percent of my home State of California and 93 percent of Alpine County in my district.

“Now, we in the Sierra revere our public lands, and we are proud to share them with the world. But the Federal Government now holds far more land than it can take care of. The Federal lands now face a $20 billion backlog of deferred maintenance, which makes tourism less desirable.

“Now, this is all land that is off the local tax rolls, denying our local governments vital revenues. Federal restrictions on productive use of these lands has devastated local economies and, worst of all, the Federal Government has utterly neglected the management of our forests to the point that they have become morbidly overgrown and now present a constant threat of catastrophic fire.

“Now, shouldn’t we take care of the land we already hold before we acquire still more land? And when we have already taken two-thirds of Alaska and Utah and four-fifths of Nevada, shouldn’t we pause and ask for some balance around the country?

“Now, this measure does provide enough money over the next 5 years to address about half of our current deferred maintenance needs, and that is very good. But then that funding disappears, and we are left with locked-in, billion-dollar-a-year mandatory spending in perpetuity for new land acquisitions placed outside of Congress’ control, while removing the requirement that future acquisitions be focused where the Federal Government owns very little land.

“It means that unelected bureaucrats will have a billion-dollar-a-year slush fund to take private property off the tax rolls with no accountability to our local communities, no provisions for long-term maintenance, and no reforms to protect our people from the scourge of wildfire produced by the continuing neglect of our Federal forests.”

Rep. Garrett Graves (D-LA 06), Member House Committee on Natural Resources:
“Mr. Speaker, I want to introduce another dose of reality, something you have not heard many folks talk about today.

“Where is this money coming from? How are we paying for this initially–what is it?–$1.9 or $2.9 billion a year in mandatory spending?

“This is coming from offshore energy revenues. That is where the majority of these moneys are coming from, from oil and gas production. I want to be clear: from oil and gas production.

“Now, the majority at the same time and in the same breath is taking step after step to decimate or eliminate the domestic energy industry, therefore not making us get oil and gas from the United States but getting it from places like Russia, as we have seen over and over again when these drastic policies have been put forth.

“Now, Mr. Speaker, the other thing is, any time you have energy revenues like this produced on Federal land under the Mineral Leasing Act, 50 percent of the money goes to those States that host that production, and they can use it for whatever they want. They can use it for whatever they want to use it for.

“In this case, the Gulf States, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, we get about 4 percent right now.

“So, Mr. Speaker, I have a question. I have a question for my friends on the majority. Can they tell me what they are going to say to the residents of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida next time we have a huge hurricane come through because you have refused, under the bipartisan amendment that the Congressional Black Caucus and others advocated, you have refused to allow for a larger percentage of money to be invested back in the resilience of this ecosystem, the resilience of these communities?

“Tell me what you are going to say to them whenever we have another Hurricane Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike, Harvey, Irma, Maria, Michael, Florence. Tell me what you are going to say to them because you are taking their money, and you are spending it in other places, and you are saying this is for the environment, these environmental groups out there advocating for this, when it is a greater environmental investment to make it in the Gulf.

“Mr. Speaker, I urge opposition to the bill.

“Mr. Speaker, I include in the Record statements from the U.S. Farm Bureau Association and the Cattlemen’s Association in opposition to this, from the American Energy Alliance in opposition to this, as well as the CRS report that analyzes from whence this money comes, whence it is going, and how much we probably won’t have in the future.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah 01), Ranking Member House Committee on Natural Resources:
“Mr. Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my time.

“We have heard all sorts of platitudes about this bill today. Whether it passes or not is actually irrelevant. It is not bipartisan, and it has all sorts of flaws. There are questions about the future source of funding.

“We have heard speaker after speaker come up and say: We are not talking about taxpayers’ money. This is only royalties that are off there.

“One of the problems we have to face is that all the royalties that come from offshore development and onshore development from energy and gas, those royalties are placed in the general fund. In fact, the second largest source of funds that go into the general fund is from these royalties, second only to the IRS taxes that go in there. If these revenues weren’t deposited in LWCF, they would be deposited in the general fund of the U.S. Treasury. If that is not taxpayer money, I don’t know what is.

“We have talked about the need for, actually, urban recreation areas. We would like to do it, but unfortunately, this bill diminishes that opportunity and puts it in limbo, which is not good.

“I have heard speaker after speaker come up here with pretty pictures about our national parks, reservation lands, BLM land, resource lands, all these things that need to be helped. A lot of them talked about all the wonderful programs that are on State lands, that are parks, roads, picnic areas, and all those things which we are already doing.

“When we permanently reauthorized the LWCF last Congress, that is when we put more money into those types of things everyone says is wonderful.

“What we didn’t put more money into is buying Federal land, buying more land to put into the Federal estate. As everyone talks about how important it is actually to now start putting money into park maintenance, into maintenance of the backlog, what this bill does is put that at the very lowest rung on priorities of where this royalty money is spent.

“You will spend it first on GOMESA. You will send it to the States. It will go to historic preservation. You will spend it on buying up more land before you ever come to anything that helps the parks and helps the public lands. That is because we have disproportionately done this.

“This bill is not about funding our public lands. This bill is about circumventing the limitations that we put in in the last Congress on buying more land. The only thing this bill is about is how we can find another way to buy more property.

“We can’t even afford the property we already have. There is a $20 billion maintenance backlog. But what this is attempting to do is find a way to put more money into buying more land so we can exacerbate that problem.

“Now, you can say all you want to about how wonderful it is, how good it is, and, I am sorry, most of those platitudes were misstated. They were talking about things that either already exist or are actually being de-emphasized by this particular bill.

“What this bill is about is: Are you going to put more money into buying more land before you put more money into actually maintaining the land we already have? That is really the only issue of this bill, and that is why we are fighting this strongly about it.

“Last year, when we did the Dingell Act, that was bipartisan. We had worked together to come up with a lot of bipartisan stuff. This was not a bipartisan bill. Mr. Kilmer, I appreciated his work with me on the parks. That was bipartisan. This is not bipartisan. It is still about how do we buy more land. That is the goal of this piece of legislation.

“Mr. Speaker, I urge a ‘no’ vote, and I yield back the balance of my time.”

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