WASHINGTON, DC, April 1, 2011 -- In an initiative apparently designed to win environmentally minded voters to GOP ranks, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner is today introducing a bill to stem the spread of suburban sprawl and conserve rural lands. “A conservative is first and foremost someone who conserves,” said the Speaker in a statement. “President Nixon recognized this forty years ago, and it is time to reclaim his legacy to protect this great land.”
The America the Beautiful Act would require all 50 states to supervise land use plans created by their municipalities to ensure that priority for new residential and commercial land development be given to areas falling within the boundaries of existing cities and towns. In a companion statement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “The era of strip malls and junky subdivisions desecrating the beautiful blue grass fields of Kentucky is over. Especially with gas prices again hovering over four bucks a gallon, Americans are tired of having to drive ten miles just to take their kids to school.”
The reference to Nixon was deliberate. In an address to Congress in 1973, the then-President called for similar action:
“The land is our Nation's basic natural resource, and our stewardship of this resource today will affect generations to come.
“America's land once seemed inexhaustible. There was always more of it beyond the horizon. Until the twentieth century we displayed a carelessness about our land, born of our youthful innocence and desire to expand. But our land is no longer an open frontier.
"Americans not only need, but also very much want to preserve diverse and beautiful landscapes, to maintain essential farm lands, to save wetlands and wildlife habitats, to keep open recreational space near crowded population centers, and to protect our shorelines and beaches. Our goal is to harmonize development with environmental quality and to add creatively to the beauty and long-term worth of land already being used.
“Land use policy is a basic responsibility of State and local governments. They are closer to the problems and closer to the people. Some localities are already reforming land use regulation--a trend I hope will accelerate. But because land is a national heritage, the Federal Government must exercise leadership in land use decision processes, and I am today again proposing that we provide it . . . Our greatest need is for comprehensive new legislation to stimulate State land use controls.”
Under the Boehner bill, federal officials would have the obligation to review states' programs and plans, and the authority to remand back to the states those that fail to meet the conservation and resource efficiency goals of federal law.
Congressional Democrats were obsessed with Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Yemen and the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I men’s basketball tournament, and were unavailable for comment.
McConnell added that his staff had been influenced by environmental advocate Devon Loras. “He has been working for years to gain support for environmental legislation from conservative groups, really paying more attention to our folks than to the socialists across the aisle,” said the Senate GOP leader. “He finally convinced us that this was an issue we cannot cede to the Democrat party.” McConnell added that he would be rooting for the University of Kentucky in this weekend’s Final Four. “And, no, it doesn’t bother me than none of the players is likely to graduate.”
Boehner summed up the goals and standards in his bill. “There’s a new program some developers are using called 'leeds' for neighborhood something or other,” he said. “It’s pretty complicated, to be honest. But it has excellent requirements spelling out where we should build and where we shouldn't, and every community in this great land should follow them. Republicans are the true stewards of America the Beautiful, and I think voters respect that.”
It is not yet clear when hearings will commence, and it would be foolish to speculate.
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Kaid Benfield writes occasional Village Green commentary on DailyKos and (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment on NRDC’s Switchboard. For daily posts, see his Switchboard blog's home page. Today especially, he encourages readers not to take things too seriously.