The GOP Has Found A New Reason To Pawn Off America’s Public Lands

Anti-federal land zealots across the country must be licking their chops. 

The new Republican Party platform, adopted this week in advance of the next week’s nominating convention in Milwaukee, mentions federal lands only once — and rather than a vague call to protect them, it proposes pawning some of them off to address housing affordability.

Republicans will “open limited portions of Federal Lands to allow for new home construction” in order to “help new home buyers,” the platform states. Former President Donald Trump has endorsed the 16-page document.

In its first term, the Trump administration repeatedly cast itself as an opponent of federal land disposal, only to cozy up to leaders of the pro-land transfer movement and, on several occasions, propose public land sell-offs

“We’re not looking to sell off land,” Trump said in a 2016 interview. At the time, the GOP platform explicitly called for transferring control of federal lands to states. 

Now eyeing a second term in the White House, Trump has endorsed a new party platform that tries to make selling off federal land — an idea that is wildly unpopular among Western voters — more digestible by tying it to America’s housing crunch. 

One big champion of the proposal is William Perry Pendley, a longtime proponent of federal land transfer and sale who served illegally as Trump’s acting director of the Bureau of Land Management for more than a year.

In late June, Pendley published an op-ed in the Washington Examiner titled, “Solve the housing crisis by selling government land,” in which he grumbled about the size of the federal estate and argued Westerners “find their way to a better future impeded unnecessarily by vast swaths of federal land largely unused, unnecessary, and exorbitantly expensive to maintain.”

In this Oct. 11, 2019, file photo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management Acting Director William
In this Oct. 11, 2019, file photo, U.S. Bureau of Land Management Acting Director William "Perry" Pendley speaks at a conference for journalists in Fort Collins, Colorado. via Associated Press

The GOP must have been listening, although the platform proposal notably uses the word “open” rather than “sell” federal land. 

The effort appears to be part of a broader shift within the Republican Party. As HuffPost previously reported, GOP lawmakers have largely abandoned brazen calls for the outright sale and transfer of federal lands, instead working to gut environmental protections and find savvier ways to give states more of a say in how public lands are managed.

“They realized a wholesale sell-off was a political third rail, so now they’re trying to frame it as a housing solution, but what they’re actually proposing is just more sprawl and McMansions,” Aaron Weiss, deputy director at the Colorado-based conservation group Center for Western Priorities, told HuffPost.

The Center for Western Priorities published a lengthy piece in June detailing why growing calls to open public lands for housing development would do little, if anything, to address the issue of home affordability. 

Prior to joining the Trump administration, Pendley was all in on selling off federal lands, writing in a 2016 op-ed that the “Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold.” Once he was at the helm of the BLM, Pendley argued that his past opinions and positions on federal land were “irrelevant” to the job of overseeing 245 million acres. 

Now back on the outside of government, perhaps eyeing a post in a future Trump administration, Pendley is back to his old ways. 

Along with his recent op-ed, which thinly disguises his anti-federal land extremism as a simple solution to the housing crisis, Pendley authored the Interior Department chapter of Project 2025, a sweeping policy blueprint that the Heritage Foundation and dozens of other right-wing organizations compiled to guide Trump and his team should he win in November.

Pendley’s contribution is little more than an oil and gas industry wishlist for the more than 500 million acres of federal land that the Interior Department manages, as HuffPost previously reported. In fact, when it came to the chapter’s section on energy, Pendley handed the pen over to the head of an oil/gas trade and lobbying group and two other fossil fuel industry allies. 

Trump has absurdly tried to claim he knows “nothing about Project 2025.” 

“I have not seen it, have no idea who is in charge of it, and, unlike our very well received Republican Platform, had nothing to do with it,” he recently wrote on Truth Social. “The Radical Left Democrats are having a field day, however, trying to hook me into whatever policies are stated or said.”

In reality, at least 140 people who worked in the Trump administration played a role in creating Project 2025, according to a recent CNN review

When it comes to public lands policies, Pendley’s fingerprints appear to be on both documents. And while the new GOP platform goes further than Project 2025 in that it explicitly calls for “limited” federal lands to be “opened” — a code word for “sold” — for housing development, the two documents closely mirror one another on energy development, each outlining a fossil-fuel-centric agenda to restore so-called “energy dominance.”