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Federal public lands rule would be yanked under bill passed by U.S. House panel


Federal public lands rule would be yanked under bill passed by U.S. House panel

Jun 21, 2023 | 3:41 pm ET
By Jacob Fischler
Federal public lands rule would be yanked under bill passed by U.S. House panel
Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area is among the public lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Credit: BLM Southeastern States

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee on a party-line 20-16 vote Wednesday approved a bill to force the Bureau of Land Management to drop its proposed rule that would allow the agency to lease parcels of land for conservation.

The committee vote allows the bill, written by Utah Republican John Curtis, to get a vote from the full House. The Republican-controlled chamber may pass the measure, but it stands little chance of being approved by the Senate or being signed by President Joe Biden.

The two-line measure would require the BLM to withdraw a rule the agency proposed in March and block the BLM from issuing a substantially similar rule in the future.

The most polarizing part of the proposed rule would allow the BLM to allot conservation leases, similar to the leases the agency issues for oil and gas development, mining, or grazing on federal lands.

Republicans have said the proposed rule would undermine the BLM’s multiple-use mandate, and “lock up” lands that could be used for livestock grazing and other purposes.

“With millions of Americans relying on BLM land to sustain their way of life, this kind of immediate action is urgently needed,” House Natural Resources Chair Bruce Westerman, an Arkansas Republican, said Wednesday.

Democrats say that conservation is an allowed use, and the proposed rule would elevate it to the same level as extractive uses.

The proposed rule “is a necessary and long-overdue update to the framework of public lands management,” the panel’s ranking Democrat, Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, said Wednesday.

“Despite claims from my Republican colleagues, it does not prioritize conservation over other multiple uses. It finally puts conservation on equal footing with oil and gas development, livestock grazing, and mining,” he said.

No future rule

Democrats on Wednesday raised objections to the clause in the bill that would block the BLM from issuing a similar rule in the future.

U.S. Rep. Susie Lee, a Nevada Democrat, proposed an amendment to strike that language from the bill.

“The term ‘any substantially similar rule’ to me is incredibly problematic because of the vagueness,” Lee said.

Westerman and Curtis responded that they understood Lee’s concern but opposed her amendment. The language was meant to stop the Biden administration from proposing the same rule right after the bill is enacted, Westerman said.

That amendment failed on a 16-20 party-line vote.

During a legislative hearing last week when Republican Govs. Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Mark Gordon of Wyoming voiced their disapproval of the proposed rule, Westerman conceded the bill would likely not become law.

But he said he would seek a provision in the annual spending bill that funds the U.S. Interior Department to block any money from being spent to support the rule. He said Wednesday that if the proposed rule becomes final, Republicans will likely propose a resolution under the Congressional Review Act to reverse it, although it would likely also meet with a veto from Biden even if it were passed by both chambers.

The BLM last week extended the public comment period for the proposal to 90 days, moving the deadline to July 3. The agency had received nearly 150,000 comments on the rule as of Wednesday.