WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today demanded answers from U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on President Biden’s “America the Beautiful” initiative, also known as the 30x30 Plan.

As Sen. Fischer said, 97 percent of Nebraska’s land is privately owned, and at least 70 counties have already issued resolutions opposing the 30x30 Plan. At the hearing, Sen. Fischer asked Secretary Haaland for all of the Department’s financial records on the program and noted that Congress has not provided any authorization or funding for the initiative.

Sen. Fischer has long opposed efforts to expand the federal government’s control over land and water resources.

Click the image above to watch video of Sen. Fischer’s questioning

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Following is a transcript of Senator Fischer’s questioning:

Senator Fischer: Madam Secretary, thank you for being here today. I'd like to start by discussing the administration's America the Beautiful initiative. Could you tell us, to date, how much funding has DOI spent on implementing the America the Beautiful initiative?

Secretary Haaland: I appreciate the question, and, if it's okay with you, Senator, we can get back to your office with the exact funding. I don't have that in front of me at the moment.

Senator Fischer: For example, can you tell me if staffing resources have been used to plan for it, coordinate, implement, or track the initiative?

Secretary Haaland: Thank you so much. Okay, so we have $140 million, which is an increase of $34 million for Fish and Wildlife Service partnership programs. I apologize. I just got the list. If that's okay, I'll tell it to you. 

Senator Fischer: Sure.

Secretary Haaland: $182 million, which is an increase of $8 million for Fish and Wildlife Service conservation grant programs. And those go out — people can apply to those grants to help their projects. $306 million for NPS, for the National Park Service

Senator Fischer: Now, is that funding that's been currently spent or what you are planning to spend?

Secretary Haaland: Well, we're asking for increases in the partnership programs and the conservation grants.

Senator Fischer: Okay. I know in your request, you've listed the America the Beautiful initiative at least 86 times throughout the budget justifications. I just wanted to bring to your attention that Nebraska is a private property state. 97% of our land is privately owned. And, as we look at this initiative, the fact that there is no clear authorization or appropriations from Congress means that there's no guardrails that's there. And I don't believe there's any accountability for how you would spend those funds. So, that's caused a lot of concern with my constituents. In fact, we have at least 70 counties in Nebraska that have issued resolutions of disapproval for the 30-by-30 initiative. Nebraskans are concerned that this effort is an attempt at a land grab by the federal government at worst. And it's a failure of the administration to recognize that private landowners are the best managers of their land at best. So, given the level of concern that we see from Nebraskans and the majority of Nebraskans, can you tell me how the administration and how you are defining conservation in relationship to the goal that is listed with the America the Beautiful initiative, and how much land today would meet that definition?

Secretary Haaland: Thank you. First of all, I'll say that we are working on an atlas that would help to, essentially, you know, count the land. We also want to mention that the America the Beautiful initiative, it's really based on locally-led conservation. There are a lot of private landowners who feel very strongly about conserving their lands, and they designate certain areas for certain things or animals. And so, we are happy to work with private landowners. We know that they're the best stewards of their own lands, as well. And we respect and appreciate that. So, it's locally-led conservation partnerships. Those are the conversations we're having now. I recognize that there might be a concern, but the America the Beautiful initiative is based on a voluntary opportunity— 

Senator Fischer: Right. But, I would point out, as you're working on this and working with mapping, Congress hasn't provided any funds for this initiative, and I believe your job is to implement programs that Congress has provided funds for. So, I would appreciate an accounting of any past or planned expenditures that you have: salaries, programs, IT reprogramming, the whole thing. That's going to, I think, be very helpful as we look at the Interior Appropriations bill. So, I hope that you do follow up with my staff.

Secretary Haaland: We absolutely will. Thank you, Senator.

Senator Fischer: Thank you very much.

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