Here’s something you don’t see everyday: the oil and natural gas industry are backing a national defense omnibus bill that includes a federal land grab, while environmentalists are opposed to it.
Oil and gas supporters argue the National Defense Authorization Act includes provisions that open up more land to development and allows Bureau of Land Management field offices to approve drilling permits more quickly. The bill would facilitate mining projects and more efficiently process grazing permits.
“A more efficient permitting process is crucial to America’s all-of-the-above energy strategy,” said Erik Milito, director of upstream operations at the American Petroleum Institute.
Indeed, the BLM has been criticized by industry and lawmakers for moving slowly on oil and gas drilling permits. A government watchdog report from July found the BLM had a backlog of 3,500 drilling permits that needed to be processed. The White House has also delayed drilling permits in the past due to sequestration and the government shutdown.
“This legislation will help to address well-documented regulatory delays that have held up energy production on federal lands and slowed the growth of jobs,” Milito said. “It’s a great example of the kind of bipartisan effort that will be needed in the next Congress to ensure that America can continue to grow as an energy superpower.”
Environmentalists, on the other hand, have come out against the NDAA, saying it would conflict with efforts to protect the greater sage grouse. Specifically, environmentalists take issue with the renewal of cattle grazing permits, which they say will harm other species on federal lands.
“This giveaway to the livestock industry should be stripped from the bill,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “It is long past time for the livestock lobby to begin making the changes necessary to bring grazing on public lands into compliance with cornerstone environmental laws and agency policy.”
Environmentalist outrage comes even as the NDAA expands national parks and puts thousands more acres off limits to drilling and mining. In fact, the bill contains the largest expansion of federal lands since 2009 — a fact that angered conservative groups.
“Republicans in Congress are pointing out that not everything in the federal lands package is bad,” said Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Many of these federal land lockups could never be enacted on their own if debated and voted in the light of day.”
The NDAA includes 250,000 acres of new wilderness designations in western states and withdraws some 400,000 acres from activities like drilling, mining and logging. The bill also includes 15 national park expansions and three new wild and scenic river designations.
The NDAA passed the House Thursday and is awaiting approval in the Senate, though it’s facing resistance from some Republican lawmakers, including Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
“With the military’s shrinking budget, it is offensive that this bill would be used to fund congressional pork,” Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said in a statement. “And, at a time where jobs are scarce and the federal government has removed billions of acres of land from productive use, Congress should not be restricting more than a half-million new acres.”
But NDAA has gotten support from Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, for its land conveyances and other benefits to Alaskan tribes and communities.
“This package includes important provisions that will boost communities throughout our state, including the settlement and finalization of lands issues in Southeast Alaska, the conveyances of land for community development in Anchorage, and at Fort Wainwright,” Murkowski said.
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