Property Rights Foundation of America®

Speech from PRFA's Eleventh Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights

Update from Congress

Jason Knox

Sadly, I have to correct Carol in one aspect. It is the Committee of Natural Resources now since the new majority came in. Everything is to be preserved and be left untrammeled by man; so we have gotten back to nature.

There is so much to talk about, but I know that it is after lunch and everyone is probably a little bit drowsy, so I will try not to bore you too much. But I would really like to begin and just highlight a few pieces of legislation dealing directly with property rights and land use that are currently moving through Congress. And, like Carol said, please, our best way to fight this stuff is when people from the outside get involved.

It is funny, actually; two days ago I was sitting in on a conference called about the Taunton Wild and Scenic river designation that is coming up in Massachusetts that's supposed to stop a liquid gas facility. I am with my fellow staffers—three of the people who used to work for Chairman Richard Pombo, so we are kind of a bunch of Kool-Aid drinkers—and we are listening to the National Park Service go through their study. And one of the things that they said that they look at when studying whether or not a river should be a wild and scenic river, is what the river would "say" to them if it could talk. No lie! We just about fell out, as we'd say back in Jacksonville.

So what we would like to get to look at more is what the people would say if they could talk in these studies. Because the Forest Service and BLM are somewhat, relatively, a little better than the National Park Service, but in all of them one thing that we are always fighting for is some outside input by affected landowners and people with interest. So please feel free to approach me at any time after I talk and give me your contact information, and if you have anything that you might want to talk about.

But jumping right in, one of the things that came in the first hundred hours was H.R. 6. This is part of Nancy Pelosi's plan to move six to ten pieces of legislation through Congress in the first hundred hours, meaning you ram them through without any committee hearings. And one of them was H.R. 6, which is part of their energy package. Basically, this was a taking of lease agreements with offshore oil drilling in the outer continental shelf.

It's probably always been told to people that this is basically the way that the oil companies "ripped off" the people of the U.S., when, in fact, these leases were signed when oil was at $9 a barrel. One of the things that the Clinton Administration rightly did, strangely enough, was they took out fee requirements so that our oil companies would go off shore and drill. Looking back with oil now $80 a barrel, it's very clear that this is a good bargain for the oil companies. It was fairly bargained anyway. In a Chavez-like maneuver; that's the way we refer to these, H.R. 6 would undo these lease agreements, which are contractual and recognized by the Constitution as a property right. That's currently languishing over in the Senate and hopefully will die.

The second one that's probably of interest to a lot of people here—and I know Peyton Knight is going to talk about it later—is H.R. 1483, which is a huge national heritage area omnibus parks package including carrying through Hallowed Ground, heritage areas in Arizona; actually, total, there are six new heritage areas and extensions of six other ones. It's $135 million and ties in with the majority of the people here. One of them is Louise Slaughter's Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, and part of the managing entities of this heritage area are—what's the commonly used term?—economic redevelopment corporations. I'm sure you all know better, being citizens of New York. As one attorney up here told me before, "I make a living, basically, taking the government to court to remind them that they have to notify people before they condemn their land."

In Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, what we are seeing is the National Park Service getting involved with local tourism, and inadvertently, in this case, they are also going to be involved in gambling. The promotion of tourism in this area is centered around the casinos. We feel that this should not be part of the National Park Service's job, especially considering that they don't manage the land that they already have. That piece of legislation is going to be coming to the floor soon. Like I said, it's worth looking at if you have time. It involves a number of states. Many of these Heritage Areas were supposed to stop getting federal money about ten years ago, but they are going to be getting millions more.

Another one that is worth noting is H.R. 2016, the bill by Raul Grijalva from Arizona, which is part of the National Land Conservation System, which is an organization within the Bureau of Land Management. I just found out, coincidentally, on Thursday, that this will also affect lands on the east coast. Basically, what this is an attempt to do away with the multiple-use aspect that you find within BLM. On many wilderness study areas in BLM you could find grazing; you could find mining. Basically, this will do away with it and make billions of acres of BLM land wilderness area, de facto wilderness area. There is even a bill to propose about 120 acres of downtown West Palm Beach as part of this system. It just happens to be surrounded by property that is worth millions of dollars an acre, but that doesn't really seem to matter.

In conclusion, I guess one of the other things that I would like to highlight and just kind of piggyback on what Mr. Pendley said, was the issue of access. You are going to see a lot of it in the coming years, because I don't think that this trend is going to reverse anytime soon. The other side has gotten pretty smart about the way that they operate. Rather than do a broadside against "our side," they are pitting groups against each other. They are pitting bikers and cyclists against the oil and gas industry, the grazing industry against hunters, and what you are tending to find now is a lot of people are running for cover. You find the first thing people are doing is looking to cut a deal. This is a pretty smart thing to do, because our coalitions basically collapse in on themselves.

So one of the things about that I would just like to ask you all to be vigilant, is just because they are not coming after you today, probably doesn't mean that they are going away, they are probably going to come after you tomorrow. And I know that many of us are part of several different types of groups and coalitions. Please always keep this in mind. And with that I will conclude. Thank you.

Back to:
PRFA Property Rights Conferences Heritage Rivers and Areas - National Energy Production and Distribution Obstruction - Natl Government Land Ownership and Control - National
 PRFA Home Page  

© 2008 Property Rights Foundation of America ®
All rights reserved. This material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.