A proposal from the Biden administration that would lock up federal land and block traditional uses of public land, such as energy development, is meeting fierce opposition from a wide range of stakeholders.
In March, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) unveiled federal regulations that would allow environmental groups opposed to fossil fuel drilling and mining projects to lease land for conservation, blocking resource development. The agency extended the public comment period for the rule to Wednesday and has received more than 170,000 responses.
“What you have now is BLM is trying to push through another overarching sweeping rule that is not supported by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act,” Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen told Fox News Digital in a statement. interview. “They’re trying to argue that conservation now somehow fits within the definition of use under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and are trying to do it within the rules.”
“It’s just blatantly against federal law. But they’re trying to do it covertly,” he continued. “They can’t get what they want done in Congress and through the Senate, so they try to do it through rules.”
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Knudsen added that the proposal represents a broad policy change that should come through legislation, not BLM regulation. He suggested the proposal also violates the Administrative Procedure Act, a 1946 law that requires federal agencies to provide adequate reasons for the rules they are implementing.
Knudsen joined letters spearheaded by other attorneys general in opposing the proposal. Comment letters from him and the other top law enforcement officials stated that the BLM action would significantly harm the energy, mining, agriculture and livestock industries while violating the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976 .
Under FLPMA, Congress established BLM’s so-called “multiple-use” and sustainable returns mandate. The statute requires the BLM to open up the land it manages for a variety of uses, including energy development, grazing, recreation, and mining.
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The BLM action aims to put conservation “on an equal footing” with other uses, and the agency said it would improve the resilience of public lands to climate change, preserve wildlife habitats and landscapes, and make cultural and natural resources available to public grounds would be preserved. Under the line, organizations would be allowed bidding on land to carry out specific recovery or mitigation activities.
“Use is all defined in FLPMA. Nowhere is the term conservation — conservation is basically non-use,” Knudsen said. “So what this would amount to locking up parts of federal land for ‘conservation’. That’s not an approved use under the law. If you want to do that, fine. Go to Congress, pass the bill, let the president pass it sign. But they know they don’t have the strength to do that.”
In addition to Knudsen and several other attorneys general, several industry groups also weighed in and opposed the proposal during the commentary period.
For example, mining groups National Mining Association (NMA) and American Exploration & Mining Association (AEMA), local ranchers associations, farmer groups and oil industry organizations submitted comments expressing concern about the rule.
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“In our view, the proposal represents a fundamental shift in how BLM currently manages federal lands under the multi-use mandate of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), ” NMA attorney Katie Mills wrote to the BLM. “The potential impact on NMA members conducting mining or other activities on federal lands is significant.”
“The proposed rule is illegal and should be withdrawn immediately. While the proposed rule pays lip service [FLPMA] as amended, it fundamentally violates FLPMA in multiple ways, including illegally adding ‘conservation’ as a ‘use’ when Congress did not include it in FLPMA’s specific list of uses,” AEMA Director Mark Compton wrote in a separate letter .
The Nevada Farm Bureau Federation said the rule should be repealed and expressed concern about the potential impact on small businesses, including farmers who rely on public lands.
The South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association similarly wrote that BLM’s proposal was “developed without stakeholder involvement or awareness.” It argued that BLM should withdraw the rule until it consults producers – it noted that farmers and ranchers are the original conservationists – who will be affected by it.
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“In light of the numerous legal deficiencies and substantial implementation policy issues, IPANM respectfully requests that BLM withdraw and reconsider the proposed scheduling rule,” Jim Winchester, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico (IPANM), wrote in a commentary letter.
“BLM should refocus its efforts on facilitating multiple uses of the public lands within the confines of its Congressional-delegated FLPMA planning authority, ACEC designation and wilderness withdrawals,” he continued. “As far as BLM continues to make rules, it should remove any fee for maintenance leasing.”
In another letter, the Montana Electric Cooperatives’ Association, which represents the state’s major electricity suppliers, said the rule could ultimately prevent the development of electricity infrastructure, potentially harming renewables.