PUBLIC LAND COMMUNITIES TRANSITION ACT OF 2008 -- (House of Representatives - June 04, 2008)
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Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that we have arrived here today like an out-of-control car skidding to a stop. Let's not forget why we are here. We are here because of a changed Federal timber policy that has bankrupted the people that live in my district and many of yours, and as a result we now have fires at costs that are unbelievable. They are historic. We are burning more acres of our Federal forests than at any time in our Nation's history, and we are paying more for it. Forty-seven percent of the Federal budget for the Forest Service now goes to put out fires.
Yet we have shut down the Federal forests from active management. That is why we are here today, because the revenues that used to flow to our communities to pay for basic services, to be the good partner that Teddy Roosevelt envisioned the great forest reserves more than 100 years ago, to be a partnership with the local community, that partnership, that bond, that pledge has been broken. People are put out of work. Services are lost.
The tragedy that brings us here today is another broken promise, and that is when this bill was considered by the House Natural Resources Committee there was a consistent and common pledge that this bill would be brought to the floor with a different offset.
I have a quote here from the spokesperson from the committee that makes that very clear. It says very clearly, it is definitely our intention for the money not to come from increased fees on oil and gas companies.
It is definitely not our intention for the money to come from increased fees on oil and gas companies. That is what the committee said. I just couldn't read it. It is too far in front of me. I apologize.
That clearly is not the case. It is clearly not the case. So we have before us a bill with a broken promise, first of all, and it didn't have to be that way.
Yes, I have come to this floor repeatedly and called for this bill to come to this floor for consideration. I don't know why it was held hostage for 130 or so days. But I came here calling for this bill to come to the floor with the clear understanding, the promise and pledge of that committee that it would come here with a different offset, one that was palatable. That promise and pledge was broken.
Meanwhile, I know the Speaker was out in Oregon a while back and said where we go from here is we ought to phase out that system. That doesn't sound like the Speaker is very supportive to me.
So what we have here today is an offset of questionable legality. And I say that not because I am a lawyer, I am not, but because of court cases that have occurred that said when it comes to levying a fee on conservation of resources on the Outer Continental Shelf, that leases that exist today prohibit the application of future laws and regulations except future regulations related to conservation of the resources of the Outer Continental Shelf.
What does that mean in real people talk? It means if you are going to levy the fee that you plan to levy, you have to spend it in a legal way, which is on conservation efforts on the Outer Continental Shelf, or else the courts will say you are not following the decisions we already gave you, Mobil v. U.S., among others. So this is of questionable legal status.
So, I asked my colleague from Oregon, we talked, we have worked really closely on this issue over the years in a bipartisan manner, and I said I think we are going to have a lot of problems on our side with this and I don't think it is legal. And indeed that is where we are today.
So we have exchanged letters. My colleague wrote me on May 30. Mr. DeFazio said if you have other suggestions for offsets that won't raise the ire of oil patch or mineral-dependent Members, I would welcome the input. So we talked on Monday and I said give me a day. This is rushed on the suspension of the rules. Give me a day to come up with an alternative, and we did.
We spent all day yesterday with the Congressional Budget Office, technical experts, legal experts, and we came up with a proposal that legally funds county payments, legally and fully funds PILT, legally and fully accesses energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf. It is very similar to a proposal that my colleague from the Fourth District voted for that was passed by this house less than 2 years ago that would generate revenue legally. By the way, for those 98-99 leases, we do levy a fee so that they do pay, but we do it in a constitutional legal way so it is applied for conservation, coastal line improvements.
So we get at the 98-99 lease issue in a legal way under this proposal. The Coalition of County Roads and Schools, we presented this to them yesterday afternoon, they embraced it wholeheartedly. But it was rejected.
Under suspension of the rules, I am not allowed to offer it as an alternative. If this bill goes down today on a vote on the suspension calendar, it can be brought up. The placeholder that this represents is a seat on a bus going into a cliff. It is going off the cliff and into a chasm. Fortunately, there is a cable attached to that bus. If this goes down today, counties aren't lost. They can come back, bring it up under a rule and we can have a real and substantive debate about a way to fully fund it.
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