House Scraps Federal Land Planning Policy In Move Endorsed By Western Farmers
The U.S. House of Representatives voted today to repeal the Obama administration’s planning policy for federal lands, with the support of many Western stakeholders, including the agriculture sector. The repeal measure now heads to the Senate, which may vote on it as soon as next week.
In a 234-186 vote, the House passed a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), introduced by U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), to overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Resource Management Planning rule, dubbed “Planning 2.0.”
“We know that citizens in our local communities and our elected officials are the best stewards of our land and resources,” Rep. Cheney said during floor debate today. “Repeal of BLM 2.0 will help restore authority where it belongs—to our states and communities.”
The rule, finalized in December, was intended to make the resource management planning process more efficient and to provide “meaningful opportunities for other Federal agencies, State and local governments, Indian tribes, and the public to be involved,” according to the agency.
But groups representing state agencies, local governments, ranchers and farmers across the West – where most of the land controlled by the BLM is located – argued that the new policy actually diminishes local participation.
Farmers across the country sounded the alarm over the “significant departure from the historical way local governments have been involved in BLM decision making.” In a Jan. 24 letter to Congressional leaders, farm bureaus in states like California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington wrote, “The final rule provides less opportunity for local governments to have meaningful and significant input.”
Wyoming Governor Matt Mead (R) shared this interpretation of the rule, stating in a Jan. 20 letter that it “minimizes state and local government plans, programs and policies and the important role these entities should play in final RMP decisions.” The governor called the rule a “prime candidate for Congressional analysis under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).”
State officials who work with the federal government on managing public lands have also endorsed the CRA motion to block the rule. In a letter sent to House leadership yesterday, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), representing state agricultural departments in all fifty states, said the rule “represents a broad federal overreach at the expense of state and local governments and negatively impacts the agricultural producers and rural communities.”
The rule, as finalized, would “keep authority concentrated with the federal Bureau of Land Management, rather than empowering state and local decision makers,” the group wrote.
Allowing more local input, instead of merely setting it as a goal, would make the planning process more efficient and productive, other stakeholders argue. “Simply put, gathering meaningful, on the ground, input from the states and localities that will be most impacted by BLM’s planning regulations is critical to ensuring a practical federal policy that works at the local level,” organizations like the American Sheep Industry Association, the Arizona Association of Counties and the Wyoming Wool Growers Association wrote in a letter they sent to the House two weeks ago.
Disapproval motions under the CRA, if supported by the House, the Senate, and the president, can effectively repeal regulations finalized by federal agencies within 60 legislative days of the previous administration. Other late-term Obama administration rules that have been subject to CRA resolutions include BLM’s “venting and flaring” rule, which also currently awaits Senate action.
“Counties all across the West expect their BLM officials to be responsive to their needs and manage their land with the best interest of the community in mind,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) on the floor today. “Their livelihoods depend on it.”