Administration Officials: CORE Act Doesn’t Support America’s Energy Dominance Strategy
Two top officials in the Trump Administration testified on Capitol Hill this week that the proposed Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act would greatly restrict the potential future development of key energy and mineral resources and undermine the nation’s energy dominance strategy.
The firm comments against the CORE Act came from Chris French, a Deputy Chief in the U.S. Forest Service, and Michael Nedd, the Deputy Director for Operations at the Bureau of Land Management, during a hearing held by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources’ subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, & Mining to debate a variety of bills focusing on recreation, conservation, and fire management issues.
The CORE Act, introduced by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), would permanently restrict oil and natural gas development and critical mineral mining on public lands in Thompson Divide – an area of approximately 200,000 acres located near Carbondale, Colo. The bill also aims to protect other wilderness areas throughout Colorado and preserve outdoor recreation opportunities.
While discussing the bill, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the subcommittee’s chairman, asked both French and Nedd, “Does the CORE Act support the administration’s goal of maintaining America’s energy dominance and promoting domestic production of critical minerals over that of less friendly set of countries, for example, China?”
Nedd said that BLM does not support the legislation for that reason. “This bill does not support the department’s goal of maintaining its energy dominance and relying less on foreign countries, so it would not,” he said.
French echoed that view, saying, “Those provision that have gone through our broader land management planning process and what there is consensus on, we support. But the overall intent, the administration does not.
In written testimony, both officials expounded on the administration’s stance toward the CORE Act. Nedd noted that oil and natural gas development has happened in the Thompson Divide for decades and that BLM is willing to work with Congress to both ensure responsible energy development and the protection of other resources in the area.
“Alternative management approaches could protect recreational opportunities and conserve resources while still accommodating the full range of uses and activities permitted on other BLM-managed lands. Under FLPMA, for example, the BLM currently manages public lands within this area for a variety of uses, such as conservation, watershed protection, hunting, fishing, and other forms of recreation, livestock grazing, and oil and gas development,” Nedd’s testimony stated. “While much of the withdrawal area proposed by section 303 is open to development of oil, gas, and 5 coal resources, the BLM minimizes impacts through lease stipulations and conditions of approval that protect wildlife habitat, water quality, and visual impacts,” he continued.
His testimony concluded with, “The Department, therefore, opposes S. 241 in its current form, but is willing to work with Congress to improve it if the bill is considered further.”
Likewise, French’s written testimony stated that the National Forest Service also doesn’t support the CORE Act because of how it impact lease holders.
“USDA supports domestic energy and mineral production as an important use of National Forest System Lands. We oppose the proposed withdrawal as it would have adverse effects on current lease holders and would not be consistent with the current Forest plan,” French’s testimony stated. “In addition, the Forest is working with the public to identify lands that may be open to oil, gas and coal development as part of the Forest plan revision process. Due to this ongoing public process, USDA does not support a withdrawal at this time.”
Bennet praised that his bill was debated during the hearing and said the CORE Act was the result of shared compromises.
“[W]e are here because of the hard work of so many Coloradans, over the last decade, to hammer out compromise and find the best way forward. To identify shared values and, despite disagreements, to work together to find solutions. To broker compromises, adjusting boundaries, and modifying designations, until each of the four proposals reflected local interests,” Bennet said in written testimony.
The CORE Act has failed to attract any Republican co-sponsors in either the House or Senate, which are particularly important when the Senate considers whether to approve bills adding restrictions to public lands. The most notable opposition has come from Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), whose district includes the Thompson Divide.
Earlier this year, the Great American Outdoors Act, sponsored by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) received overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers. President Trump signed the bill into law that will use oil and natural gas production royalties on federal lands to address the maintenance backlog at national parks to boost recreational activities.