Providing for Consideration of H.R. 2130, Red River Private Property Protection Act, and Providing for Consideration of Motions to Suspend the Rulesby Representative Mac Thornberry
Posted on 2015-12-09
THORNBERRY. Mr. Speaker, I appreciate very much the gentleman
from Washington yielding me the time and his work on this issue, as
well as the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee for bringing it
to the floor.
Mr. Speaker, I do not intend to spend a great deal of time debating the merits of the bill at this point on the rule. I think it is important, however, that I try to clear up some misunderstandings, apparently, that have been generated.
Let me just say that one misunderstanding that I have heard referred to on the floor is that the committees in this House are not taking action against terrorism. I can say that the committee I am privileged to chair, the Armed Services Committee, has had a briefing this very morning about how we can be more effective against ISIS and the threat of terrorism. So there is a great deal of work that is going on around this House. It may not be every bill that every Member wants to see debated, but a variety of committees and committees working together are working to take action to try to keep this country safe, and I think that is important for the American people to know.
Mr. Speaker, the Red River Private Property Protection Act is an important act not only for the landowners on both sides of the river along this 116-mile stretch in Texas and Oklahoma, but it is important for property owners across the country; because, if an agency of the Federal Government can wake up one day and say, ``We own more land than we ever have thought we owned over the last 90 years,'' it puts in doubt the property rights of landowners everywhere because it is very difficult to fight the Federal Government.
The suggestion was made that this underlying legislation is a landgrab by Texas. Of course, my opinion, Mr. Speaker, is that reflects a fundamental understanding of the situation and certainly of what this legislation does.
Let me take just a moment to explain that, when Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803, he bought for the United States all of the land in the riverbed of the Red River down to the south bank of the river. That was affirmed in numerous treaties between the United States and Spain, the United States and Mexico, and the United States and the Republic of Texas. That is the boundary, the south bank. But in 1867, the United States made a treaty with three Indian tribes, and that reservation that was the subject of that treaty just went to the middle of the river.
I have the exact treaty which I may well enter into the Record at a future point.
So, Mr. Speaker, the bottom line is, any reservation which later became private property in the State of Oklahoma extended only to the middle of the river, while Texas did not go further north than the south bank of the river. That leaves a narrow strip from [[Page H9098]] the middle of the river to the south bank that is absolutely Federal territory.
That is the way it has been since, as I say, at least 1867, with nobody else making a claim that they owned it--until 2 years ago; and then the Bureau of Land Management said: We think we own a lot more land, not just the south bank, but a lot more land. And that is what has caused this controversy.
So how do you solve a controversy like that? You do a survey. You follow the Supreme Court decision from the 1920s. You get professionals out there who know what they are doing, and you conduct a survey exactly along the line the Supreme Court said we should. And that is what this bill does. It requires a survey along the whole 116-mile stretch, which has never been done. As the gentleman from Washington states, as a matter of fact, they have only surveyed 6,000 acres in a spot sort of fashion.
So this tries to answer this issue once and for all. Survey the whole thing. We know where the line is, and, therefore, people who are private property owners on both sides of the river know where the line is as well.
Now, clearly, Mr. Speaker, there is no intention of infringing upon any of the rights that the tribes or anybody else has. Let me just quote a few provisions from the underlying legislation: Nothing in this act shall be construed to ``alter the valid rights of the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Nations to the mineral interest trust fund created pursuant to the act of June 12, 1926.'' ``Nothing in this act shall be construed to modify the interest of Texas or Oklahoma or sovereignty rights of any federally recognized Indian tribe over lands located to the north of the South Bank boundary line as established by the survey.'' ``The sale of a parcel under this section shall be subject to . . . valid existing State, tribal, and local rights.'' There are more protections in here than even I can count. So the point is not to change anybody's rights. It is to prevent the Federal Government from confiscating the land that private property owners have deeds to, often for generations, and have paid taxes on for years and years. That is what this is trying to solve.
The suggestion has been made, well, all this ought to be worked out in court. Number one, private landowners sometimes don't have the pockets to work it out--especially a fight with the Federal Government--in court.
Secondly, while you are working it out in court, this cloud hangs over your title. You can't sell your land. You can't borrow money on it because nobody knows if that is really Federal land or private land.
This was not a problem until 2 years ago, when the Bureau of Land Management said: We are going to take in more land than anybody has ever alleged that the Federal Government owns.
The way to fix a BLM overreach is for this House to take action and answer the question once and for all. That is what this legislation does.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate very much the gentleman from Washington and the chairman of the committee for giving us the opportunity to debate it.