Murkowski Adds Federal Land Disposal Measure to Budget

Environmentalists are saying a budget amendment authored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski could lead to a plundering of treasured federal landscapes. Murkowski’s amendment on federal land disposals was part of a national budget resolution the Senate passed early this morning. Senators offered hundreds of amendments that don’t have the force of law but often serve symbolic or political purposes.

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Murkowski said on the Senate floor her amendment could facilitate state and local land exchanges to create balanced resource policy. But, the senator says, the amendment doesn’t, on its own, sell or exchange any particular piece of federal land.

“Any legislation enabled by this spending-neutral reserve fund will have to go through the process and be voted either up or down in regular order,” she said. “But the language does specify what cannot be considered, and that’s any land that’s located within a national park, within a national preserve or a national monument. Those will continue to be protected.”

Alaska Wilderness League Conservation Director Kristen Miller says Murkowski’s amendment leaves refuges, national forests and other lands vulnerable.

“The way the legislation reads, it’s targeted at every single one of our public lands across the country that didn’t fall into the categories explicitly listed, so it’s dangerous everywhere from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge down to, you know, the bottom of Florida,’ she said.

Miller says it’s not clear what the implications are for the non-binding measure.

“It’s hard to say. I mean, the amendment was brought to the floor. It was voted on. The way you read it, it seems to encourage for our public lands to be given away, to be transferred, and to be potentially up for sale for development,” she said.

The Senate approved it after Murkowski held the vote open for an extra 10 minutes and convinced Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine to change her vote. Collins told the publication Environment and Energy Daily she voted for it because Murkowski assured her any future land exchange would have to come before Congress. The budget resolution itself passed with just 52 votes. It is not law but serves as a blueprint for the appropriations process.