Sen. Jon Tester joined five senators from four western states this week in urging congressional leadership to change language in the 2018 budget resolution that opens the door to selling off public lands to reduce the federal deficit.
The letter, also signed by Democratic senators in New Mexico, Oregon, Colorado and Washington, urges Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski not to use the federal budget as a tool to sell public lands to raise revenue.
“We strongly believe we must tackle our debt but are concerned this partisan, fast-track process could be used by those in Congress who support selling off our public lands,” the letter stated. “We strongly oppose these efforts and respectfully urge you not to allow any such legislation to move forward.”
On a 51-49 vote, the Senate last week passed a budget resolution requiring Murkowski’s committee to raise $1 billion in revenue. Tester said that money could come by selling drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and by selling public lands.
“Once public lands are out of public hands, we would lose management, access and planning that makes these places a critical part of our outdoor heritage and economy,” Tester said. “We need to find responsible ways to rein in our deficit and cut our debt, but selling our public lands would only stifle an economic engine.”
In the past, the Republican majority has attempted legislation to sell public land, including a measure earlier this year by Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
His bill directed the Interior Department to sell 3.3 million acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management in 10 western states, including Montana. Chaffetz later withdrew the measure after push-back by sportsman and conservation groups.
Tester said that selling or transferring public lands threatens Montanans’ way of life and puts the nation’s $887 billion outdoor economy at risk. The outdoor economy in Montana alone sustains more than 70,000 jobs and generates $7.1 billion annually, according to a report by the Outdoor Industry Association.
“Selling or transferring these lands would be devastating to the outdoor economy, and would trade one of our nation’s greatest investments for short-term financial gain,” Tester said.
Business for Montana’s Outdoors also voiced opposition to the budgetary language. On Thursday, the organization’s executive director, Marne Hayes, urged other members of the state’s congressional delegation to oppose the measure’s language, along with any future effort to sell off public lands.
“Montana cannot afford to allow Congress to balance the books by selling our public lands,” Hayes said.