“First, they take our property rights. Now, they are taking away our local control and voice in BLM planning processes. The decisions will be made in Washington, D.C.; not by our local BLM offices that really live in and know our communities.

This is not the first attempt by the Obama Administration to destroy our Western economies. My only consolation is that change is coming.”

Despite outcry from local leaders in the West, the Bureau of Land Management, (BLM) with the blessing of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, has chosen to ram through its exclusionary new planning rule weeks before the newly-elected Administration takes charge.

The title of BLM’s press release from December 1, is deceptive. It reads, in part:

BLM Finalizes Rule to Make Land Use Plans More

Responsive to Community Needs

Rule reinforces BLM’s relationship with tribes, state and local governments, and the public 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today issued an updated rule that will make its land use planning more accessible to the public, more responsive to the changing conditions on the public lands, and more efficient.  

The BLM developed this rule through years of work with state and local governments, cooperators, communities, stakeholders, and the public at large.  The rule updates regulations that are more than 30 years old, provides additional and more robust opportunities for input into the agency’s planning process, and ensures that science is a cornerstone of the BLM’s planning work.  The BLM launched this effort after hearing from stakeholders that the current planning process is too slow and cumbersome.  

“Planning is the cornerstone of managing our nation’s public lands and balancing their many uses and values,” said Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider. “Allowing additional opportunities for public engagement will improve responsiveness at the local level and help address the challenges of managing public lands in the 21st century.”

The BLM proposed Planning Process 2.0 has been roundly criticized by conservative lawmakers and local leaders throughout the country, especially by those in Western states.

In a press release from July, the House Committee on Natural Resources described the proposed rule this way:

This draft rule would dramatically shift resource management planning away from local communities to bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.

The House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing about this new planning rule, and the chorus of voices cited in the related press release resounded a troubling warning to Congress:

Kathleen Clarke, Director of the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, voiced her strong opposition to the draft policy. She raised concerns about the new “planning assessment” step, that disregards the unique role current law provides for states and counties impacted by BLM decisions.

If unelected special interest groups have an equal seat at the table during the ‘planning assessment,’ the role of state and local governments as cooperators will inherently be diminished. Key decisions and direction will likely have already been set before cooperating agencies ever have a chance to meet […],” Clarke stated.

Full Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) asked the panel about the inherent conflict between Planning 2.0 as written and BLM’s obligation to coordinate with state and local governments under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA).

When I read BLM Planning 2.0, it appears that BLM is moving away from the rights granted to the state and local governments in [FLPMA]. Under this new rule, how do you think BLM will honor their legal mandates to cooperate and coordinate with states, particularly the early public assessment phase? Chairman Bishop asked.

I believe during this early public assessment phase, state and local governments can participate should they choose, but their voice will be marginalized,”Clarke responded. “[State and local governments] have a right to sit as an elevated partner because they are sovereign. They should not be relegated to sharing a position among the crowds. I believe this is stepping aside from the law and this is not the first time this Administration takes such a step.”

James Ogsbury, Executive Director of the Western Governors’ Association, discussed the irony of the situation: the backlash from state officials, land commissioners and local communities could have been avoided if BLM worked with them on the development of the rule in the first place.

“Much of the opposition to this proposal would have been mitigated had BLM engaged in ‘early, meaningful and substantial’ consultation with Governors in the formative stages of the rule’s development,Ogsbury said.

The draft rule seeks to implement “landscape scale management,” which shifts resource management planning away from the local level, ignores the expertise from state and local stakeholders and the diversity of lands across the country, even within states.

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) pressed Jim Lyons, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management at the U.S. Department of the Interior, on whether BLM intends to make any changes to the draft rule in light of the states’ and counties’ well-documented objections, including that the draft rule violates FLPMA. Lyons would not commit to starting over on Planning 2.0, but reiterated that BLM will take comments into account as the agency moves forward with finalizing the rule.

BLM’s draft rule, as it is currently written, is not a workable solution. At a minimum, BLM needs to reopen the comment period to allow for full and substantive input on this complex rule. Ideally, BLM should go back to the drawing board and partner closely with state and local governments to make sure the resource management planning process works for everyone—not just agency officials and special interests in Washington, D.C.,” Subcommittee Chairman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said.

Last March, commissioners in Garfield County, Colorado wrote a letter to the BLM Director, former Harry Reid staffer, Neil Kornze, decrying the proposed rule:

 “Garfield County is concerned with what appears to be a quiet effort by the BLM in Washington, D.C., to erode, if not eliminate existing requirements for the BLM to not only coordinate with local governments but to also ensure their planning efforts are consistent with local plans and regulations.”

Leaders from several other counties in Western Colorado, where BLM manages a majority of the land, and Obama’s energy policies have nearly decimated domestic energy industries, also expressed concern about the implications of the new rule:

Some local government officials in northwest Colorado and in other Western states have raised concerns that the proposed changes would marginalize requirements that the BLM coordinate with local and state governments in land planning and management and make its plans generally as consistent as possible with state and local plans. One fear is that local input would be given no greater weight than public comments from far away, such as those submitted through the efforts of environmental groups.

Despite the conciliatory rhetoric, in recent years the BLM has become increasingly hostile to local citizens and governments in the West. Rose Pugliese, a commissioner from Mesa County, Colorado, where roughly 72% of public lands are under federal control and will be subject to this new rule, summed it up this way:

“Once again, BLM is ignoring the comments made by not just Mesa County, but by many counties on behalf of our constituents across Colorado and the Western United States.

First, they take our property rights. Now, they are taking away our local control and voice in BLM planning processes. The decisions will be made in Washington, D.C.; not by our local BLM offices that really live in and know our communities.

 

This is not the first attempt by the Obama Administration to destroy our Western economies. My only consolation is that change is coming.”

bulliesoflandmangement2Free Range Report

 

 

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