Agriculture groups, conservation officials and lawmakers say the expected repeal of the Obama administration’s last-minute planning regulation for federal lands is welcome news for the West.

In a major victory for state and local officials, farmers, ranchers and energy producers in western states, the Senate voted 51-48 this week to overturn “Planning 2.0,” a regulation finalized in December by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The U.S. House passed its own disapproval motion under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) last month and the White House has already pledged to sign it.

“This is Strike Two for 2.0,” said Dave Eliason, president of the Public Lands Council, a group representing cattle and sheep producers. “Streamlining is needed in the planning process, but not at the expense of input from local communities and permittees or elimination of economic analysis requirements,” Eliason said. “The final rule also shifts away from BLM’s mission to protect multiple uses of public lands, and it disregards both local input and economic analysis. We look forward to the President quickly delivering the third strike by signing this resolution so that BLM may begin a new, inclusive process.”

Under the Obama administration, the BLM claimed Planning 2.0 would create a “more streamlined process” for federal land-use decisions that still made room for state and local interests. Environmental groups supported the changes, but critics said the planning regulation would actually centralize more decision-making authority at BLM headquarters in Washington, D.C. The stakes are high because the BLM manages about the 245 million acres of surface land more than 700 million acres of subsurface minerals across 12 states in the West.

“The BLM’s initial intent was good,” wrote Brett Van Dyke, president of the National Association of Conservation Districts in a letter to Senate leaders before the vote on the repeal measure. “The end result however often skirts the Federal Lands Policy Management Act and reduces the ability of local government involvement,” Van Dyke said. The rule also imposes an “undue financial burden” on local governments as they try to “participate in the land use planning process as they previously had.”

Western lawmakers say the expected repeal of Planning 2.0 will avoid major damage to state and local economies in the region. “Planning 2.0 was a misguided and damaging attempt by the Obama administration to undermine the rights of state and local governments to manage resources and land use inside their own districts,” U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in a statement after the Senate vote.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said Planning 2.0 “would have done more harm than good.” “In Wyoming, almost half of the land is owned by the federal government and most of that is overseen by the BLM,” Barrasso said. “We should be empowering state and local voices in land management processes, not trying to sideline them.”

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) also cheered the Senate vote to repeal Planning 2.0. “This rule emboldened federal bureaucrats and placed special interests ahead of local communities and states in resource management decisions,” Bishop said in a statement. “These communities need more say, not less,” he said.

Planning 2.0 would shift decision-making authority “away from states and local communities to bureaucrats in Washington,” U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said after the Senate’s repeal vote. The Obama administration’s overhaul of federal land-use policy would have resulted in “a longer process that creates more confusion and greater uncertainty,” Hatch said.

Likewise, U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said overturning Planning 2.0 was a commonsense step to support the communities and economies of the West. “Any cattleman, miner, or county supervisor in Arizona will tell you that the centralized planning process proposed under BLM’s ‘Planning 2.0’ rule would have been disastrous for land management out West,” Flake said in a statement.

Environmental activist groups were close allies of the Obama administration and campaigned aggressively against the repeal of Planning 2.0. Before the vote, the League of Conservation Voters called the CRA motion “radical” and warned it would count the vote towards the group’s National Environmental Scorecard for individual lawmakers. After the Senate vote, the Natural Resources Defense Council ignored the involvement of agriculture groups, conservation officials, states and local governments in the push to repeal Planning 2.0 and instead singled out oil, natural gas and coal producers. “Congress is getting its marching orders from the fossil fuel industry, which prefers a rigged system and abhors the transparency afforded by the planning rule,” the NRDC said.


Representatives from the energy sector said Planning 2.0 would have elevated the interests of national environmental groups based on the east and west coasts above the interests of the general public, and especially the states and communities of the West. “Someone from New York cavalierly sending in a Sierra Club-generated email opposing a rancher’s grazing permit or a local oilfield worker’s project simply is not invested as deeply as those living in western communities,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, said in a statement. “Western governors, tribal councils, county commissioners, ranchers, and local stakeholders directly involved in the communities surrounded by federal lands should be afforded a higher level of deference than outside special interests.”

The Alliance represents the Western oil and natural gas industry and is a supporter of Western Wire.