Congressional Interior oversight now in the hands of anti-public lands Representative Gianforte

Anti-public lands Congressman Greg Gianforte (R-MT) has been tapped to lead the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Interior, Energy, and Environment, a key panel that keeps watch over federal environmental and energy regulators, including Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke. Given Rep. Gianforte’s anti-public lands stance and his ties to special interests, his chairmanship of the subcommittee portends a new era of lax oversight over the administration’s disastrous public land initiatives.

Rep. Gianforte, who was elected as Montana’s lone representative after then-Congressman Ryan Zinke was tapped to become Secretary of the Interior, has advocated for reducing the size of protected public lands and national monuments, and has voted to undermine the Antiquities Act. He has publicly stated that protected federal lands should be returned to state control and has supported other anti-public lands legislation in his short time in Congress thus far.

“Rep. Gianforte leading a critical Congressional oversight committee that presides over federal agencies that make public land decisions is a troubling development in efforts to protect those lands and our nation’s outdoor heritage,” Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger said. “His record in Congress on anti-public lands initiatives and his ties to special interests underscore the extent to which the executive and legislative branches are working to roll back public lands protections, despite overwhelming public sentiment to the contrary.”

In-district polling previously revealed a strong disconnect on public lands between Rep. Gianforte and his constituents. Specifically, a clear majority (39% support/61% oppose) oppose laws that would reduce the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments and give presidents greater power to lift protections for public lands, including 46% who strongly oppose this legislation. Given Montanans’ overwhelming opposition to anti-public lands initiatives from the administration, any action from Rep. Gianforte to further roll back public lands protections is likely to prompt backlash from his constituents.

Additional polling by the University of Montana, which showed that nearly 60 percent of respondents did not favor reducing public lands, prompted Rep. Gianforte’s staff to call the results of the bipartisan poll flawed.

As a harbinger of Rep. Gianforte’s role in public lands oversight, the Montana GOP’s platform currently supports the transfer of federal land to states — something Rep. Gianforte has publicly supported — which is widely viewed as a precursor to privatization. Gianforte’s new role also raises questions as to his ability to hold his former Congressman-turned-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke accountable as the Secretary’s list of scandals grows.

Background on Rep. Greg Gianforte anti-public lands record:

Greg Gianforte, in committee, voted for H.R. 3990, a bill “to overhaul the Antiquities Act,” a bill that environmental groups described as “‘the most aggressive attack ever waged on America’s national parks and monuments.'”

In committee, on October 11, 2017, Greg Gianforte voted for H.R. 3990, a bill sponsored by Rob Bishop “to overhaul the Antiquities Act.” H.R. 3990 would “make it harder to create new national monuments”; in particular, the legislation would “narrow the definition of what can be protected by monument designations,” “prohibit creation of monuments larger then 85,000 acres,” “require that local county commissioners, the state legislature and the governor approve any new monuments, and give presidents authority to revoke or downsize existing monuments.” The legislation passed out of committee 23 to 17, entirely along party lines, with 23 Republicans voting for it, and 17 Democrats voting against it. [Devin Henry, “House committee to consider Antiquities Act overhaul,” The Hill, 10/09/17; Sean Hecht and John Ruple, “Congressional attack on national monuments ignores America’s conservation history,” The Hill, 10/16/17; Gail Binkly, “Chimney Rock Monument Manager Questions Rep. Scott Tipton’s Stance on Antiquities Act,” KSJD, 10/20/17; Elvina Nawaguna, “Antiquities Act Overhaul Advances in Party-Line Vote,” CQ, 10/11/17]

H.R. 3990 has been opposed by environmental groups, who have called it a “destructive bill” and “‘the most aggressive attack ever waged on America’s national parks and monuments.'” [“These congressmen voted against iconic public lands in their own districts,” Wilderness Society, 10/25/17; Press Release, Natural Resources Defense Council, 10/11/17]

Greg Gianforte said that use of the Antiquities Act has resulted in “large land grabs” that do not “include local input.” In particular, he criticized the designation of Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument because “there wasn’t a lot of consultation with local landowners.” Gianforte supports creating a process that would give states more influence in monument designations.

Greg Gianforte said the Antiquities Act “has been used as large land grabs. And the real problem with some of the monument designations that we’ve seen in my mind is that it did not include local input. And you know, there’s ones that are very popular, I mean Pompey’s Pillar, of course, let’s protect that. I think there was good support in the community. The Breaks—there wasn’t a lot of consultation with local landowners. And I think that the best way to comment on this, is to give you an example, I think it’s better government occurs when decisions include, and are made, at a local level. And these monuments have been top-down from Washington.” [“Face the State: Greg Gianforte,” MTN News on YouTube, 05/07/17, accessed 01/22/18 (23:50)

Greg Gianforte said he would “support the creation of a process to give states input into designations, including national monuments.” He added that monuments are “on that list” of actions that he believes are “overreach.” [“CAMPAIGN 2017: Mont. candidates choose weapons: guitars, guns and Trumps,” E&E, 04/24/17]

However, Greg Gianforte said that the Antiquities Act is “a good thing” because it “allows us to preserve things that are of significance to us.” He says there are “certain cases” where national monuments “should be done” as presidential orders under the Antiquities Act. [“Face the State: Greg Gianforte,” MTN News on YouTube, 05/07/17, accessed 01/22/18 (23:50)]

Greg Gianforte supports the Trump administration’s national monument review because some of the designations were made “‘at the 11th hour'” and “‘without input'” from locals.

Greg Gianforte supports the Trump administration’s review of national monuments. A spokesman said that Gianforte “‘believes these designations need to be scrutinized and made with local support. Any decision must take into account the concerns and impact of the people living in that area.'” [Tom Kuglin, “Gianforte: ‘I believe we can develop natural resources and protect the environment,'” Helena Independent-Record, 04/28/17]

Greg Gianforte said that “‘many'” national monuments “‘were done at the 11th hour at the last minute of the administration without input from local community. The action to look at these monuments should include the local communities and if the tribes are involved, the local tribes.'” [Alyssa Kelly, “Gianforte visits CSKT Council, Char-Koosta News, 05/25/17]

On land management, Greg Gianforte says “the state does a better job than the federal government.” He says he is opposed to the wholesale transfer of federal public land to states because he doesn’t “think it’s obtainable,” but he wants to explore “pilot projects” where states assume management responsibilities of federal public lands. Gianforte says that federal management causes public lands to “turn into tinderboxes.” He thinks increased state management would result in “more wildlife.”

Greg Gianforte said, “I’m a big outdoors guy. I love our public lands. That’s part of what brought me to Montana originally. There’s also no question, If you talk to people who work with various agencies that manage land in Montana, the state does a better job than the federal government does. And that might be a little bit about the regulatory environment and these sorts of things. I am opposed to the transfer at this time because I don’t think it’s obtainable. I am a proponent for increased state management of federal lands on a pilot basis. There’s some proposals floating, particularly up in Lincoln county where we have probably some of the highest unemployment rates in the state, where under a pilot project, you have county commissioners or some new commission that gets set up, would actually manage federally deeded lands under contract with the federal government. I would be a proponent of projects like that because I think it’s a way we can bring better management to these lands. What we’re doing now is not working.” [“Greg Gianforte on public lands,” Bozeman Daily Chronicle on YouTube,” 03/10/16, accessed 01/18/18 (00:01)]

Greg Gianforte said, “I do think our federal government has not done a particularly good job of managing our federal lands. They turn into timber boxes. We burn them every summer. If we actually managed our public lands, there would be more wildlife… I am a fan of increased state management that continues to be federally deeded. [“Randy talks hunting issues with Greg Gianforte,” Hunt Talk Radio with Randy Newberg, 03/24/16 (11:30)]

However, Greg Gianforte said, “‘our public lands must always stay in public hands.'” [“CAMPAIGN 2017: Mont. candidates choose weapons: guitars, guns and Trumps,” E&E, 04/24/17]

Greg Gianforte tweeted, “I would oppose any measure that jeopardizes keeping public lands public.” [Greg Gianforte on Twitter, 03/28/16, accessed 01/22/18]

Greg Gianforte, in committee, voted for legislation to “make it easier to buy gun silencers” and to “loosen federal regulations governing fishing, hunting and shooting on federal lands and waters.” Opponents described the bill as a “sportsmen’s bill in name only” that contained a “broad range of dangerous provisions that would harm the environment and public safety, while failing to benefit hunters and sportsmen.”

In September 2017, Greg Gianforte, in committee, voted for H.R. 3668, legislation sponsored by Jeff Duncan to “make it easier to buy gun silencers” and to “loosen federal regulations governing fishing, hunting and shooting on federal lands and waters, including which animals can be hunted and what methods can be used.” In particular, the legislation would “limit federal restrictions on wildlife-poisoning lead ammunition and fishing tackle and scale back federal protections for gray wolves in the western Great Lakes and Wyoming.” The bill passed out of committee 22 to 13 along party lines, with 22 Republicans and no Democrats voting for it, and 13 Democrats and no Republicans voting against it. [Elvina Nawaguna, “Bill to Ease Gun Silencer Sales Advanced by House Committee,” CQ, 09/13/17; George Cahlink, “Gun provisions could change in House sportsmen’s package,” Energy & Environment, 10/27/17]

Environmental and gun control advocacy groups opposed the “controversial” bill, claiming that it was a “sportsmen’s bill in name only” and that it contained a “broad range of dangerous provisions that would harm the environment and public safety, while failing to benefit hunters and sportsmen.” In particular, environmental group National Parks Conservation Association claimed, the bill would “erode public engagement and participation in public land management decisions and the many waivers of environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).” [John Bersnahan, “Controversial gun silencer measure advances,” Politico, 09/13/17; SHARE Act Opposition Letter, accessed via Center for Biological Diversity, 10/05/17; Press Release, National Parks Conservation Association, 09/08/17]

Greg Gianforte sued the state of Montana to remove an easement through his property that provided public access to the east Gallatin River.

Greg Gianforte, in 2009, sued the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks department (FWP) to “remove an easement that provided public access along the east Gallatin River, arguing that users were damaging adjacent land.” The issue was resolved in 2010 when FWP “put up signs, managed the land for weeds, and built a new trail.” [Jayme Fraser and Holly Michels, “Governor candidate Gianforte sued state in 2009 over access to river,” The Missoulian, 05/10/16]

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