Field Hearings Unlikely for 'Land Grab' Bill
By Pat Taylor
June 27, 2001
(CNSNews.com) - House Resources Committee Chairman James V. Hansen (R-Utah) has refused a request by some House members to hold hearings in western states before the committee votes on the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA).
CARA would guarantee $47 billion in federal funds over the next 15 years for the acquisition of private land and other government projects.
Private property rights advocates strongly oppose CARA. They refer to it as the "Land Grab Bill," and they claim it is the biggest threat to private property rights since the Endangered Species Act.
Proponents, on the other hand, insist that CARA would provide more private property rights protections than existing legislation.
The Resources Committee held a CARA hearing on June 20. The same day, Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R-Idaho) wrote a letter to Hansen requesting that any mark-up of the legislation be postponed until field hearings could be scheduled in western states.
"As you know, CARA has attracted significant opposition from property owners, ranchers, farmers, and others who are concerned that federal acquisition of more lands in many states will significantly and adversely affect their livelihoods," wrote Otter. "Granting the people of the West - your constituents and ours - field hearings on legislation of this magnitude would ensure that their concerns are adequately heard by this Congress."
The letter was signed by 20 House members - all Republicans representing primarily Western states. A campaign was underway to gain more signatures.
But in a letter dated June 22 and received by Otter on June 26, Hansen flatly rejected the request.
"I understand your concern that a single hearing in Washington, D.C., will not provide our constituents with an adequate opportunity to express their feelings on CARA," wrote Hansen. "However, last Congress the Resources Committee heard testimony from a total of 88 witnesses at four separate hearings."
Hansen noted that in addition to Washington, D.C., hearings were held in Anchorage, Alaska; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Salt Lake City, Utah.
Ironically, those cities are located in Hansen's home state and the states of CARA's other prime sponsors - Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who authored the bill and whose state stands to gain more than $2.6 billion from the bill; and Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (D-Louisiana), whose state would receive almost $5 billion from it.
Hansen also noted that the committee has compiled over 1,000 pages of written testimony and comments.
"Because I feel that the Committee has expended ample resources in attempting to ensure that all interests are represented and all concerns are addressed, I must deny your request to postpone any mark-up of CARA for the purpose of holding additional field hearings," wrote Hansen.
Hansen also expressed his commitment to protecting private property rights.
"I also recognize that private property rights are sacrosanct in this Country and I am deeply troubled by attempts by the Federal Government to acquire private land through pressure, so-called 'regulatory whittling,' or harassment," wrote Hansen. "I am therefore committed to ensuring that as the Committee undergoes further consideration of CARA, we do everything in our power to protect the property and constitutional rights of private property owners."
Will Hart, a spokesman for Otter, said the congressmen will continue to oppose CARA, as long as it is a "massive, set-aside bank account to purchase land for the federal government."
Hart said Otter has no problem with creating green belts and parks in urban areas, a prospect that many Easterners like about CARA. "We all want that," said Hart.
However, Hart said Otter believes there is no need for more federal land purchases in states like Idaho, where the federal government already owns 64 percent of the land - and cannot effectively manage it.
He said Otter feels the money would be better spent on road repairs and other necessary management projects totaling more than $12 billion that have not been done on the federal lands due to lack of funds.
Hart said future attempts to change CARA could include introducing alternative legislation or proposing amendments to rectify some of the more objectionable provisions of the bill.
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