Protecting Property Rights
Private ownership of property is a fundamental right in America. Along with that ownership comes a certain expectation that landowners will be able to legally use their land as they see fit, so long as others are not harmed. Over the years, that expectation has eroded as federal, state and local governments passed laws that impact how a landowner uses his or her land. Furthermore, governments obtain property through eminent domain to use for various purposes including roads, parks, open space and conservation areas and other activities.
In the United States, the "taking" of private property is prohibited by the Constitution. However, actually getting relief under the Fifth Amendment is difficult for property owners to achieve. Recent Supreme Court actions are particularly alarming, as the Court has seemingly embraced an expansive view of governments’ right to invoke eminent domain to seize private property for other purposes. In June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that local governments may seize private property for development, even if that development primarily benefits a private company. The taking of private property reduces the economic productivity of the land, and decreases the tax revenues needed to support our schools and other necessary public services, in addition to violating of our civil liberties.
Since its earliest days, the Western Caucus has taken a lead role in standing up for property rights, and will continue to oppose excessive uses of eminent domain.
Responsible, Commonsense Domestic Energy Development
The Western Caucus believes America needs to increase its energy independence through environmentally responsible development of our huge untapped domestic energy resources. We do our nation and the world a disservice when we continue to rely on foreign sources of oil. Based on the statements of President Obama and the record of the newly expanded Senate Democratic Majority, the prospects of increased domestic energy production in the near future are bleak. This effort to reduce domestic energy production – from all sources – is shortsighted and not in the long-term interest of the public.
Members of the Western Caucus support policies that increase, diversify, and facilitate the production and delivery of reliable and affordable energy supplies from all domestic sources. For the past ten years in the United States, energy demand increased by more than 12 percent while domestic production increased by less than one percent. Western Caucus introduced more than 40 bills in the 112th Congress to meet this growing need for more energy sources. Our energy proposals include:
Support Domestic Energy Resources Such as Oil Shale
It is estimated that more than 2 trillion barrels of oil are held in oil shale deposits most of which is found in the Green River formation in Northeastern Utah, Northwestern Colorado, and Southwestern Wyoming. These deposits contain more oil than all of the countries in the Middle East combined, and could eventually produce 10 million barrels per day—more than the double the amount imported from all OPEC nations each day. The federal government owns more than 80 percent of the land where the richest and most easily recoverable deposits are currently found. The Western Caucus supports the environmentally responsible development of these deposits into usable fuel for energy independence.
Responsible Energy Development in ANWR
Most geologists agree that the potential of recoverable oil and gas on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) may rival the initial reserves at Prudhoe Bay. In 1980, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated the Coastal Plain could contain up to 17 billion barrels of oil and 34 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. However, before oil and gas development in ANWR can proceed, Congress and the President must authorize leasing and development. Should leasing be permitted and subsequent commercial discoveries be made, it will be an estimated 15 years or more before oil and gas production from ANWR reaches market. That production will then be urgently needed to help meet domestic demand, so taking advantage of this key resource is critical to our national energy security.
Promoting Renewable Energy
With domestic energy demands on the rise, renewable energy sources are becoming an increasingly important contributor to the nation's fuel mix. However, renewable energy constitutes just one element of a truly balanced fuel portfolio: clean coal, natural gas, nuclear and hydroelectric are all necessary components as well. Regulatory reform is imperative because many of the renewable resources in the nation are located in public lands, and a streamlined NEPA process would reduce the costs associated with permitting new renewable generation.
In recent years, renewable energy proponents have become aggressive in pursuing state and federal purchase mandates. Such mandates remove the flexibility that providers need to ensure they can reliably supply energy to consumers at the lowest price. There are a variety of policies besides rigid mandates that can be adopted to effectively promote renewable energy production, such as production incentives. The market, not government mandates, should decide what renewable resources are available.
Support the Environmentally-Sound Energy Development of the Outer Continental Shelf
The Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is estimated to hold nearly 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 90 billion barrels of oil. This is enough natural gas to heat 100 million homes for 60 years or enough oil to replace current Persian Gulf imports for 59 years. Until 2008, over 80 percent of the nation’s oil and natural gas resources on the OCS were completely off -limits to energy exploration and production due to Congressional moratoria and administrative withdrawals, despite a proven record of safety and environmental responsibility. Fortunately, President Bush and Congress ended these shortsighted moratoria. In 2010, President Obama established a new moratorium in the Bristol Bay area of Alaska.
Maintain Accessibility to Clean Coal
As our most abundant and stable source of affordable electricity, coal continues to be the main source of energy for American homes, businesses, and manufacturing. The United States boasts enormous recoverable coal reserves, so much so that U.S. coal producers can meet domestic demand and export thousands of tons to help bring electricity to the estimated 1.3 billion people in the world who currently live with no electricity at all. New technologies to convert coal to liquid fuel and to gasify deep coal seams promise to bring clean-coal resources to the market. Instead of marginalizing coal production through regulatory strangulation, the United States should support the affordability and reliability of coal as an energy source.
Reject Counterproductive Taxes on U.S. Energy Producers
More than 60 percent of the oil used in the United States is imported. In the next 20 years, if American oil dependence is allowed to continue as it has in the past and the price of oil continues to increase as expected, more than three trillion dollars will be transferred from the United States economy to foreign countries for imported oil, many of whom do not have American interests at heart. Energy independence is a critical matter of national security, and we should treat it as such. The oil and gas industry is of crucial importance to our economy, contributing billions of dollars to our GDP, and employing 1.5 million Americans. Additionally, the royalties from oil and gas leases produce millions of dollars in revenues at the federal and state levels, helping to finance necessary public services. The last thing we need to do is discourage domestic energy production.
Federal Land Management and Benefits for Education
The federal government is the largest landowner in the United States, controlling almost1/3 of the entire land mass of the United States—an area more than six times the size of California. Over 90 percent of federal land is located in western states. The vast majority of these federal lands were set aside with the understanding that they would be managed for multiple use which would include grazing, recreation, conservation, and sensible natural resource development. However, Congress imposed laws and regulations that in many cases are unreasonable and burdensome. As a result, managing federal lands costs the American taxpayer billions of dollars a year more than tourism revenue can possibly produce. Inexplicably, the federal government continues to spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to acquire additional land. An area larger than the size of Florida has been added to the federal estate since Kennedy administration.
One of the often overlooked effects of continued massive federal land ownership is the impact on public education in the West. Even though state and local taxes of western states, as a percentage of personal income, are as high as or higher than other states, there is a persistent shortfall in funding for public education. Part of this is attributed to population growth. An even larger factor in education funding problems for western states is their inability to generate tax revenue due to the vast amounts of federal lands within their jurisdiction. Since public education is heavily dependent on state and local property taxes, western states are suffering.
To address this, many members of the Western Caucus have endorsed legislation known as “The Action Plan for Public Lands and Education”, or APPLE. APPLE is a western states initiative aimed at alleviating the shortfall in funding public education in the West. The act would authorize western states to select five percent of BLM and Forest Service lands within their state to be sold or leased, with the generated revenue dedicated solely to public education. Similar land disposal mechanisms have been set up for specific purposes in other states.
Promoting Local Control and States Rights
A fundamental principle of our Constitution is the belief that local governments are better suited to deal with local issues than a distant, out-of-touch federal government. State and local governments are closer to the people, more responsive to citizens, and better equipped for representing their constituents on many important issues. Recently, however, this tradition of constitutionally established local control has been seriously eroded due to usurpation of power by the federal government. Westerners are at the forefront in believing that the federal government should remove itself from historic and traditional local concerns.
Despite the history of westerners properly managing their resources in a sound, environmentally friendly way, Congress has passed legislation to limit states’ abilities to make decisions on water quality, water rights allocations, air quality and land use. For example, under the Clean Air Act, states are delegated the authority to implement the provisions of the Act, but federal land managers have developed regulations that give them veto power over any new project that may impact Federal Class I wilderness areas. Congress also claimed federal reserved water rights for land designations, which hampers the ability of states to adjudicate water rights. There are countless other examples of the federal government overstepping its constitutional limits and encroaching on state power.
Some issues are inherently federal in nature, but those that are not should be left to the states and localities. When the federal government decides that a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C. should make decisions on local issues, often the result is contempt and frustration by people that are impacted. Federal agencies have no accountability, and the input of those who must live with the agencies’ decisions is often ignored. The Western Caucus seeks policies that empower individuals and communities to conserve natural resources and grow their economies simultaneously. We support locally driven, incentive-based policies that reduce bureaucracy.
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Defending Multiple Use of Public Lands
It is every citizen's duty to manage our public lands responsibly to ensure water quality, wildlife habitat, and the multiple-use of our public land base. We need our public lands to be used in a way that appeals to all of our citizens, not just a single group. The Western Caucus believes our public lands hold great benefits for all of us, and the ability to use these resources in an environmentally friendly manner is imperative to ensure their long-term vitality and economic growth. Multiple use is a key element of responsible public lands management.
Throughout our history, non-park federal lands have been available for a variety of activities, from recreation and grazing to mining, energy development and forestry. These principles are embodied in the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960, in which Congress established that national forests are to be used “for outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and fish and wildlife purposes."In recent years, a string of statutes and regulations have negatively impacted the ability of these sectors and others to make economic use of many public lands. Restrictions due to endangered species, historic preservation requirements, and other heavy federal impositions eroded the principles of multiple use, and harmed the economy of western states. Revenues generated from grazing, mining, timber operations and recreation are a result of multiple use. Further, these sectors are the economic engine for hundreds of local communities that would disappear if their ability to responsibly and beneficially use these lands for were removed.
Out-of control wilderness designations, an exploding number of areas of critical environmental concern (ACEC), and efforts to prohibit mining and grazing on public lands continue to put multiple use of our federal lands at risk. Each Congress dozens of bills are introduced that would further erode multiple use of federal lands. We will continue to oppose such legislation.
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The 1964 Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System. Wilderness designation provides the most restrictive land management level for federal lands. Like any federal land designation, wilderness requires tradeoffs between competing interests. For example, wilderness designation promotes a narrow recreation demand which make some public areas permanently inaccessible to many Americans. There is general consensus that certain areas in the United States warrant this strictest type of protection. However, Members of Congress from large metropolitan areas propose legislation to designate large swaths of wilderness in other Members’ districts. These proposals rarely have the input or support of the impacted communities, and politicians often ignore the fact that the vast majority of past wilderness bills were limited in scope, and followed a collaborative process.
To date, Congress has designated 756 wilderness areas, encompassing nearly 110 million acres, roughly the size of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont combined. According to the Census Bureau, there are 108 million acres of developed land in the United States. There is more designated wilderness than developed land in this country.
Western Caucus Member believes these criteria must be met before a wilderness designation is considered:
- Wilderness legislation should meet the definition of wilderness as laid out in the 1964 Wilderness Act.
- Wilderness legislation should have the support of all the Members of Congress who represent the area of proposed designated.
- Wilderness legislation should include adequate protections for private property and pre-existing uses.
- Wilderness legislation should have broad community support, including from locally elected officials, as well as state and local groups representing a wide array of interests.
To meet the original intent of the Wilderness Act, we offer the following guidelines:
- Wilderness legislation should include a detailed map as part of the legislation that clearly and accurately describes the area covered by the proposed designation.
- Wilderness legislation should not implicitly or explicitly allow for buffer zones to be created which would preclude economic activity normally allowed by law.
- Wilderness legislation should include an analysis of potential impacts on pre-existing uses, access to adjacent public lands, and the ability of federal land managers to conduct fire prevention and suppression efforts and manage forest and rangeland health.
- Efforts to designate federal wilderness should include, prior to designation, an inventory of all energy resources and suspected mineral deposits within or adjacent to the designation, to which access could be impacted by the designation.
- Efforts to designate federal wilderness should include, prior to designation, a thorough assessment of the economic and social consequences due to the new wilderness area.
- Efforts to designate federal wilderness should include an assessment of catastrophic wildfire potential and the ability to manage for wildlife, air and water resources.
- Wilderness legislation should release to multiple use management any Wilderness Study Areas not proposed for wilderness designation.
- No wilderness designation should claim or create new federal reserved water rights or undermine the ability of states to adjudicate and allocate water rights.
Oppose Expansion of Clean Water Act
There has long been a dispute brewing between the courts, federal regulators, environmental groups and industry regarding exactly what bodies of water fall under the purview of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The problem: the CWA gives the federal government authority to regulate “navigable waters of the United States” but does not define what the term means. The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have defined “navigable waters” to include adjacent wetlands and tributaries. Neither agency has developed clear and concise definitions of adjacent wetlands or tributaries, causing great confusion in the regulated world. This results in CWA authority being defined through arbitrary determinations by federal bureaucrats.
Depending on who is making the decision, the regulatory reach of the CWA has been interpreted to mean any physical connection or any potential connection where water, no matter how remote or infrequent, could eventually mix with navigable waters. Under that scenario, every sewer, curb, road, gutter, storm drain, tire rut and ditch could be required to meet the same water quality standards as rivers, lakes and reservoirs. This could potentially cost individuals and companies thousands of additional dollars complying with CWA provisions.
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Modernizing the Endangered Species Act (ESA)
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted 40 years ago with the best of intentions. Its original goal: save species in danger of becoming extinct and help them recover to healthy population levels. All Americans overwhelmingly support these goals. Unfortunately, the recovery rate for these species is less than 1% under the Act. We want to help species recover so they can actually come off the ESA list.
Fringe environmental groups are fighting hard against any ESA modernization. The ESA is one of the best federal land use laws on the books, and has been abused by the radical environmental movement to drive their narrow vision of land use policies. You only have to look at the past 40 years since the enactment of the ESA to see what it has produced: the dramatic destruction of your property rights and the failure to recover species. The Act must be brought up to date to place greater emphasis on species recovery instead of bureaucratic listing actions. It must encourage the use of innovative approaches to increase species' populations.
Strengthening the Act should require better science to make policy decisions. This will enable the effective use of federal monies and time in restoring species populations. The final key to improving recovery rates is working in cooperation with conservation organizations and private landowners. By providing the tools necessary to enable private landowners and states to be partners in achieving the goals of the Act, the recovery of species will improve, along with the relationship between the people and their government.
Preventing "Stroke of the Pen" Monument Designations
In recent years, a disturbing trend has emerged in land designations: the usual route through Congress has been circumvented as the Executive Branch has been allowed to designate national monuments without the consent of elected legislators or consultation with state and local governments. Congress, by virtue of its power granted in the property clause in the U.S. Constitution, makes the bulk of public land designations by statute: additions to national forests, the designation of federal wilderness areas, and the establishment of national parks.
However, Congress has delegated almost complete authority to designate national monuments to the President. Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, the President is authorized to designate national monuments without congressional input. The Act lacks significant standards for size, creating a high potential for abuse. Although Congress retains the ability to designate national monuments through statute, it principally relies on monument designations put forward by the Executive Branch. Between 1906 and 1999, Presidents designated 118 national monuments. Although Congress has limited the Act’s reach in some respects, the federal courts have expanded and upheld every exercise of the Antiquities Act.
President Clinton took the Antiquities Act to new heights with the designation and expansion of more than 20 national monuments, many of which were opposed by local residents and landowners. In order to prevent this abuse of power, Congress should take steps to curb the President’s ability to arbitrarily designate national monuments, and create a mechanism for congressional review of proclamations. Congress should also provide for state and local input before the designation takes place.
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Supporting Full Funding of Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes and Secure Rural School Programs
For Westerners, the federal government’s ownership of vast quantities of land does more than restrict economic development opportunities. It also robs local communities of property tax revenues and the taxes associated with private business development. The federal Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) programs were created to address these problems. Until recently, these programs were subject to the whims of the congressional appropriations process and were constantly underfunded. It is estimated that western communities lost out on over one billion dollars in unfunded PILT payments since the program was enacted in 1976.
PILT compensates more than 1,900 counties in 49 states and territories for property taxes they cannot collect on tax-exempt federal lands. These federal lands are administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, federal water projects and some military installations. PILT helps rural counties pay for vital services such as environmental compliance, law enforcement, health care and education.
When the National Forest System was established and forestland was set aside from settlement and development, many local rural communities experienced hardships due to the large amounts of land withdrawn from economic development. In response, Congress created a revenue sharing program from activities on national forest lands to help offset these effects. These payments primarily funded public schools and roads. In 2000, Congress created the SRS to replace and modernize the old timber receipt revenue-sharing program. For many rural counties once dependent on timber revenue, these funds are vital. Without inclusion in this year's budget, 4,400 schools would lose funding, and many counties across America could face fiscal insolvency.
The Western Caucus took a lead role in achieving guaranteed, full-funding of PILT and SRS for the first time. We will continue to fight for these programs well into the future.
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