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The Oklahoman: House votes to take feds out of Red River border decision

December 10, 2015
News Stories

The Oklahoman - Chris Casteel

Ignoring a veto threat, House Republicans pushed through a bill Wednesday that would require a private survey to determine the Oklahoma-Texas border and mandate the sale of about 30,000 acres of public land along the Red River.

The bill, authored by several House members from Texas, was approved by a vote of 253-177, with all five members from Oklahoma in support. The legislation may not get a Senate vote, given the White House opposition.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican, said the U.S. Bureau of Land Management was attempting to claim land along the Red River that was in private hands in Texas.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 1923 decision, laid out a process for how the Oklahoma-Texas border would be determined as the river shifted. The river runs along about 116 miles of the border, lawmakers said.

Both states and the federal government have abided by the high court's decision for decades but the Bureau of Land Management was now redefining the boundary most relevant to Texas landowners, Thornberry said.

He called it a "federal land grab" that would deprive property rights to private landowners who have been utilizing and paying taxes on the land. Farm organizations in Texas and Oklahoma support the bill, as does a national cattle ranchers group.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., argued against the bill, calling it a "land grab by the state of Texas" that could deprive the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache tribes of revenue from oil and gas production along the border.

If Texas wants to challenge the federal government's land survey of the border, it should do so in court, McGovern said.

Before passing the bill, the House approved an amendment by Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, that would give the three Oklahoma tribes far more involvement in the sale of any public land associated with the bill.

The White House issued a veto threat on Tuesday, saying the legislation would "divest the Secretary of the Interior of responsibility as surveyor of record for the United States, and transfer lands out of federal ownership without ensuring a fair return to the taxpayer."

Also, the White House said, the bill "would require the secretary to delegate her authority for determining federal estate to a state agency, would be counter to nearly 100 years of settled law and could reduce mineral revenue opportunities for the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Tribes and the State of Oklahoma."

Online: The Oklahoman