The House yesterday voted to kill a controversial rule finalized in the closing weeks of the Obama administration that congressional Republicans say leaves state and local input out of important federal land management decisions. Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney’s resolution of disapproval, H.J. Res. 44, passed by a 234-186 vote, mostly along party lines. Four Democrats voted for it and four Republicans against. The so-called Planning 2.0 rule, finalized by the Bureau of Land Management in December, established what the agency calls a more efficient process to update and revise the roughly 160 resource management plans for millions of acres of federal lands.
The planning rule, which has not been updated since 1983, was sharply criticized during floor debate by congressional Republicans, who said it allows BLM to bypass coordinating with local and state officials.
“BLM Planning 2.0 is yet one more example of Obama-era federal government overreach,” Cheney said during a one-hour floor debate. “It takes authority away from people and local communities in my home state of Wyoming and all across the West, and it puts Washington bureaucrats in charge of decisions that directly influence and impact our lives,” she said.
“It significantly dilutes cooperating agency status, and it discounts input from those who are closest to our lands and our resources.” The Senate has been bogged down dealing with Trump administration nominations. But next week, it may take up several House-passed rule-killing resolutions. The Senate version of Cheney’s legislation is S.J. Res. 15 from Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). The White House yesterday issued a brief policy statement in support of the House resolution — a clear signal that President Trump intends to sign it once Congress is done.
Resolutions piling up
Yesterday’s vote marks at least the third time in the past week the full House has used a Congressional Review Act resolution to repeal a major Obama administration land-use or environmental protection measure.
Congress last week approved a resolution nixing the Stream Protection Rule (E&E News PM, Feb. 2). And the full House last week also approved H.J. Res. 36 to kill BLM’s rule to limit methane emissions from oil and gas operations on federal lands (Greenwire, Feb. 3). “I am disturbed by that pattern [and] I am disturbed by the haste with which we’ve moved, especially since all these rules took years to create and craft,” Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) said during floor debate.
On Monday, top officials from several states, including California and New York, sent Senate leaders a letter warning against scrapping the methane guidelines. Natural Resources Committee ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said the move to scrap the Planning 2.0 rule is part of a Republican “assault on the environment and our public lands.” He noted that once a CRA resolution is approved, federal agencies are prohibited from reissuing the rule or anything similar, locking BLM into current planning guidelines that are more than three decades old.
Republicans painted the rule as a “midnight” regulation, hastily finalized by the Obama administration shortly after Trump’s election. Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said Planning 2.0 is a prime example of the kind of rule “that needs to be rolled back because it goes too far, it was done at the last minute, and it undermines the kind of input we need to make proper decisions. This is one that’s got to go.” Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) disagreed, noting that BLM spent more than two years developing the measure and gathering public input. “Two years and 3,000 public comments, this was no midnight regulation,” she said.
Cheers and jeers
The House vote drew strong reactions from those supporting and opposed to repealing the planning rule. The cattle industry hailed House passage of the resolution. “This is a huge victory for America’s cattle producers and a sign that some common sense is finally being restored in Washington,” said Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council, who also leads the federal lands program at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “Planning processes are critical to the ability of grazing permittees to operate in the West,” Lane added. “The final rule’s shift away from multiple use, as well as its disregard for both local input and economic analysis, make it unworkable for the more than 18,000 ranchers operating on BLM-managed lands.”
Conservation and sporting groups blasted the decision, saying it could have far-reaching negative impacts.
Steven Williams, a former Fish and Wildlife Service director during the George W. Bush administration and now president of the Wildlife Management Institute, said the new rule was already working to improve “the way we conserve once-overlooked habitat that elk, mule deer and other big-game animals rely on.” BLM was applying the rule’s principles to develop an oil and gas management plan in Colorado’s South Park region, said Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “Hunters, anglers, landowners, elected officials and others have had more upfront involvement than in the past, and cutting off the process before it barely has a chance to get going is the very example of a top-down edict from Washington that lawmakers are always criticizing,” O’Neill said. Using the CRA to dismiss the rule is an “aggressive” approach that “benefits no one,” said Joel Webster, director of Western lands for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
Scott Streater, E&E News reporter