Congress considering energy bill that would expand federal ownership of private land

The U.S. Senate is set to debate and consider the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 (S. 2012) over the next few months. One provision within this 420-page bill that should concern realtors is the permanent reauthorizing of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Through the LWCF, the federal government uses offshore energy royalties to purchase private land, which is then turned into public parks, used for conservation programs, or for other public recreational purposes.

The federal government’s desire to continue purchasing private land is concerning, especially considering the fact that the Department of the Interior (DOI) owns 635 million acres of land – more than any other entity in the country. Additionally, the DOI faces a maintenance backlog of $13.5 billion to $20 billion on the land it currently owns, resulting in environmental degradation, soil erosion, littering, and land mismanagement.

The protection of private property rights is foundational to the real estate community and the availability of private land is essential for the real estate market to flourish. Instead of taking land from businesses, property owners, and local governments, the federal government should transfer land back to the private sector. This will encourage economic development and result in improved land use and management. Congress should eliminate and sunset the LWCF, not expand it.

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