Members of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Natural Resources say they may block funding for the Bureau of Land Management unless the agency extends the comment period on a new resource management planning rule.
They said the draft Planning 2.0 rule would shift resource management planning to bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.
BLM announced the new draft planning regulations in February, making changes to the procedures the agency follows to prepare resource management plans.
Subcommittee Chairman Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, warned that the Republican leadership is going to go to conservative legislators like him and ask what it will take to get a budget bill passed this year.
“We’re about to the point where it’s going to take gutting BLM’s leadership until we get people who will be responsive to the people that they’re gutting,” he said.
Opponents of the rule contend it diminishes the ability of state and local governments to participate in planning and violates protections in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.
BLM has already extended the comment period on the rule 30 days.
The new rule was in response to stakeholder complaints about the planning process, BLM Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Lyons told the subcommittee on July 7.
The new rule is meant to address those issues, improve opportunities for stakeholders from the outset and reduce delays, costs and the chance of litigation, he said.
“The perception that this drives all decisions back to Washington is a gross misunderstanding,” he said.
Most committee members disagreed.
“In many ways the draft rule seems to be designed to increase Washington’s influence while minimizing BLM’s responsibility to work with states and local government and affected people,” said Gohmert, the subcommittee chairman. “BLM’s planning 2.0 efforts and this draft rule appear to ignore the law and undermines the communities that neighbor BLM land.”
The rule fails to honor the legally protected role of governors in planning and diminishes it in significant ways, said James Ogsbury, executive director of the Western Governors’ Association.
The proposed rule would only consider inconsistencies between BLM’s resource management plans and a state’s “officially adopted” land use plan, removing a state’s policies, programs and processes from the equation.
That would substantially narrow the influence of governors in their consistency reviews of BLM’s plans, he said.
In addition, the rule eliminates existing regulatory direction that BLM accept governors’ recommendations if they provide for reasonable balance between the nation’s interest and a state’s interest.
Under the new rule, the BLM director would only be required to consider governors’ views, not follow them, he said.
“It appears that BLM is investing itself with great, perhaps unfettered, discretion to disregard a governor’s recommendations,” he said.
Western governors are also concerned about provisions that shorten public comment periods for draft resource management plans and avoid the need to publish notices in the Federal Register.
In addition, while a new planning assessment that occurs before BLM begins work on a management plan proposes to elevate the role of public and non-government organizations through public meetings, it fails to acknowledge state data, science and analysis and treats governors like any other stakeholder, he said.
Lyons said the rule in no way negates cooperators’ opportunities to participate in the process.
Rather, it reaffirms their unique role and enhances their opportunities through a more open process, he said.
Utah Public Lands Policy Director Kathleen Clarke said the new rule will fundamentally undermine and significantly marginalize the role of state and county governments.
In addition, BLM proposes a shift to landscape-scale management that could extend across state borders, preventing close coordination between individual states and BLM with a one-size-fits-all directive, Clarke said.
The rule also weakens the role of BLM state directors and field office managers, putting decision-making in the hands of what BLM calls “deciding officials” and “responsible officials,” which could have no ties to states, no history with the planning area and no involvement in previous discussions, she said.
Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said BLM always talks about getting more input, and that’s good, but who makes the decisions is significant.
“This program significantly contracts who gets to make those decisions and centralizes who gets to make those decisions and minimizes elected input … that’s the biggest flaw in this program,” he said.
Gohmert asked Lyons if BLM would extend the comment period on the rule.
“We’ve done our utmost over the period of time we’ve been working on this rule to try to secure additional input. Now it’s time to finalize a rule based on all the input we received and then apply it,” Lyons said.
Frustrated with that response in light of governors and others pleading for an extension, Gohmert said, “It sounds like you’re saying ‘we’re not extending the comment period … we’re going to materially impact them and we don’t care. We’ve got our plan … we’re going to leave it right where it is. We’re satisfied with our little crew right here in Washington.’”