- The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) proposed sweeping new rules Thursday that authorize leasing federal land for conservation efforts similar to leases offered for mining, grazing and other projects.
- While the move was broadly praised by environmental groups, it drew criticism from the Center for Biological Diversity for not going far enough, according to E&E News.
- “There are so many overlays for conservation on BLM land, some of them in the law and some of them just made up administratively, that a lot of land has already been withdrawn,” Myron Ebell, at the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) proposed new rules Thursday that would allow public land to be leased for conservation efforts, among other major changes to promote land health.
The proposal would expand land-health standards to the entirety of the 245 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), prioritize the designation of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) and establish a leasing framework for private partners to perform climate restoration and mitigation efforts on public land, according to the DOI. The new rule would make proposed leases for conservation efforts a valid “use” of public land, similar to mining, ranching and other energy projects under the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976, according to the BLM.
“It is our responsibility to use the best tools available to restore wildlife habitat, plan for smart development, and conserve the most important places for the benefit of the generations to come,” DOI Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. (RELATED: Biden Interior Secretary Won’t Say If She Prefers Oil From American Over Venezuela)
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an oil trade group, told Reuters she believed that it would be a “stretch” of the FLPMA to introduce conservation leases. This position was echoed by Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute, who also argued that the BLM already had significant authority to limit land usage in an interview with the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“There are so many overlays for conservation on BLM land, some of them in the law and some of them just made up administratively, that a lot of land has already been withdrawn … from resource production, recreational access, grazing, timber … a lot of land is already being managed for conservation,” Ebell told the DCNF. He argued that some regions, particularly in the Intermountain West, depend on grazing as a conservation method and that this rule might make it more difficult to get a grazing lease.
“It feels to me like [the proposal] provides a broader authority for the federal government to take more land off the table for productive use, under the guise of conservation,” Jack Spencer, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Energy, Climate and Environment, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “One of the problems I see with this is that it is clearly a response to the president’s climate agenda.”
President Joe Biden recently drew criticism from environmental groups over his approval of the Willow Project, a massive oil drilling project in Alaska. The administration argued that its hands were tied to halt the project thanks to its initial approval by the Trump administration, and simultaneously designated 13 million acres of Alaskan federal land off-limits to drilling, despite its location in the Natural Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A).
Though the BLM move was broadly praised by environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Pew Charitable Trusts and Defenders of Wildlife, it drew criticism from the Center for Biological Diversity for not going far enough, according to E&E News. Randi Spivak, the organization’s public lands policy director, said the effort was akin to “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” and was a “missed opportunity” to handle the extinction and climate issues on public lands.
“The agency’s time would be better spent addressing the root problems of public lands degradation and protecting these treasured places for future generations,” Spivak told the outlet. “Instead of addressing destructive mining, fossil fuel extraction and grazing, this rule basically restates what’s already the law. Major improvements are needed.”
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