The Clinton administration spewed a thesaurus full of attack words Tuesday against a bill by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, to transfer all Bureau of Land Management areas to the states - if they agree individually to take them.
The administration threatened to veto that, calling it a "radical," "irresponsible," "bad deal" that "threatens the economic health of Western communities" and would "squander much of our natural heritage."Hansen shot back some tough words of his own, saying the administration is "intensifying" feelings by Westerners that "they have little or no control over their lands," and "the BLM can blame itself for being on the chopping block."
That came during a hearing chaired by Hansen in his House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Lands - where environmental groups lined up behind the administration, and western state and congressional officials sided with Hansen.
Delivering the main barrage for the administration was Assistant Interior Secretary Bonnie R. Co-hen.
"The bill is fiscally irresponsible and would squander much of our natural heritage. HR2032 is a bad deal for most residents of the Western states and a bad deal for the American public," she said.
"HR2032 packs a triple whammy for the American taxpayer: It deprives taxpayers of current revenues, gives away assets that generate money over the long term and makes sure that taxpayers will continue to pay for maintaining public lands in states that choose not to take less desirable lands," she said.
Her testimony comes a day after the BLM released a study saying the transfer would cost states too much - because the federal government itself pays more than it receives in grazing and mineral fees to manage the lands, and states would have to assume such subsidies.
Cohen said federal shortfalls may be made worse because, "A relative handful of states would capture most of the income-producing mineral resources on lands now owned by the federal government. The federal government would be left with management responsibilities for the less desirable lands."
The bill allows states to take over BLM areas in their borders on an "all or nothing" basis. Defenders of Wildlife released another study Tuesday saying it figured only Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming might gain from such land transfers - so they may accept them, while other states may reject less viable deals.
Cohen also said the bill "threatens the economic health of Western communities" by possibly allowing states to close or sell off recreational lands. "Recreation visits to the public lands are . . . good for the economies of local communities."
Hansen, however, blasted the administration for suggesting that only the federal government can wisely manage public lands. "It is time Congress returned to trusting the respective states" and said most lands would remain public.
Hansen added his bill would provide the local control most Western states say they want.
"Western states have faced the impossibility of controlling their own destiny for decades. This administration has intensified those feelings in the West, and the BLM can blame itself for being on the chopping block," Hansen said.
Hansen was supported by witnesses including New Mexico Lt. Gov. Walter D. Bradley, Wyoming Land Commissioner Jim Magagna and former BLM Director Cy Jamison - who all urged passage of his bill.
It was opposed strongly by such environmental groups as the Wildlife Management Institute and the Mineral Policy Center - which called Hansen's bill a "triple trillion takeover."