ANDERSON, Calif. — The chairman of a federal lands subcommittee says Congress can use its funding authority to wrest control of land management and other government functions from an ever-expanding bureaucracy.
U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., said Congress is forbidden to fund unauthorized programs and must reauthorize them every few years, which enables lawmakers to fight back against administrative overreach.
“There’s a movement in the House (of Representatives) that’s gaining steam to use the reauthorization process to take back the legislative and judicial powers that we’ve given the executive branch over the past century,” McClintock told the Capital Press.
“In some cases the bureaucracy has exceeded its legal authority,” he said.
A person is 10 times more likely to be accused of breaking an administrative rule than of breaking a criminal law, said McClintock, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee’s federal lands subcommittee.
His comments during an interview followed his presentation Feb. 9 at the Sierra Cascade Logging Conference’s kickoff breakfast, where he said a turning political tide is improving chances of passing bills that open up federal lands to more logging and other uses.
Already, water legislation approved in December included environmental waivers for Lake Tahoe Basin forest thinning projects of fewer than 3,000 acres to prevent catastrophic fire, said McClintock, whose district includes a vast swath of eastern mountains and foothills stretching from Sacramento to Fresno.
With Republican majorities in Congress and President Donald Trump, McClintock sees a better chance of passing the Resilient Federal Forests Act, which would enable federal agencies to use disaster funding for firefighting, and his own Emergency Forests Restoration Act, which would fund the removal of dead trees from forests.
Lawmakers may also seek to amend the Antiquities Act to divert funds from the acquisition of new lands to better managing existing ones, he said.
“The mood (in Congress) is, ‘Please, God, don’t let us screw this up,’” McClintock told the breakfast gathering. “This is our one chance to save our country ... We’re going to be judged on the success of the policies themselves.”
Often referred to as the “fourth branch of government,” the federal bureaucracy has increasingly been accused of usurping powers delegated to Congress or the courts. U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch wrote in one recent opinion that “executive bureaucracies” can “concentrate federal power in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution of the framers’ design.”
“We absolutely have to” rein the bureaucracies in, McClintock told timber industry representatives. One push is to have hatchery fish counted among fish populations under the Endangered Species Act, for which legislation may be introduced by next year, he said.
As some rumblings can already be heard that Congress has been slow to act on campaign promises, McClintock urges people to be patient.
“Congress is designed to be deliberative, not to act precipitously,” he said in an interview. “It’s designed to disagree with itself ... That’s why Congress is so agonizingly slow.”