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Pennsylvania House lawmakers propose safeguards against foreign threats to farmland, infrastructure

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Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
January 25, 2024

Citing threats from unfriendly nations— including China— Pennsylvania House Republicans have introduced a package of bills that would restrict foreign ownership of farmland and protect critical infrastructure.

The legislation, outlined by three GOP lawmakers in a memorandum seeking cosponsors, is a response to recent concern among federal officials over threats to national security, trade, and food security as a result of foreign nations and corporations owning farmland and property adjacent to critical infrastructure.

The memo cites the November cyber attack on a water treatment plant in Aliquippa, Beaver County and the purchase by a Chinese-linked security firm of 370 acres of farmland near a military base in North Dakota.  

While the federal government would continue to take the lead on national defense, the legislation announced Wednesday addresses key areas in which state authorities can protect assets not covered by federal agencies, the lawmakers said.

State Rep. Barbara Gleim (R-Cumberland) said she plans to introduce legislation that would place additional restrictions on the purchase of farmland by “countries of concern” designated by the federal government. These include China, Russia, Belarus, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria and other countries that prohibit American ownership of farmland.

“If the federal government has designated a foreign country as one of concern, we should not be jeopardizing our national security by allowing leaders, political parties, or associated businesses from those countries to purchase large swaths of agricultural land, especially when that land may be near sensitive areas,” Gleim said in a statement, noting that the Army War College in Carlisle is a national defense asset in her district.

Pennsylvania is one of 14 states that prohibit or restrict ownership of farmland by foreign nationals. Despite the restrictions, more than 400,000 acres of Pennsylvania farmland was owned by individuals and corporations outside of the United States in 2022, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture.

Federal lawmakers, including Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) and U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-15th District), have taken notice. Thompson and Rep. James Comer (R-K.Y.) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office in October 2022 requesting a full “review of foreign investment in U.S. farmland and its potential impact on national security, trade, and food security as well as U.S. government efforts to monitor these acquisitions.”

The package of new state legislation includes a proposal by Rep. Stephenie Scialabba (R-Butler) to establish the Pennsylvania Cyber Security Task Force, composed of staff from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Public Utility Commission and other agencies to improve the security of institutions and facilities in the state.

Rep. Tim Bonner (R-Mercer) also proposed a bill as part of the package that would direct the Joint State Government Commission to consider policies that would allow the state to review purchases of infrastructure and adjacent land by non-U.S. entities for security implications.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.