A national sportsmen’s coalition is taking aim at continued assaults on our public lands by U.S. House members who want to gut conservation measures, hamstring public participation in land-use decisions and impose arbitrary drilling quotas while millions of acres of federal leases sit idle and thousands of oil and gas permits go unused.
Two bills being considered by the House Natural Resources Committee Wednesday would undermine leasing reforms intended to balance activities on public lands, Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development wrote Tuesday in a letter to the committee. Similar House bills failed last year.
"These bills are a give-away of public lands and resources in the guise of an energy policy. There is nothing strategic about sacrificing our nation’s public lands and the contributions they make to our economy and our communities for the sake of exporting more natural gas overseas and boosting the price paid here in the U.S.," said Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife Federation’s public lands policy director. "There is nothing smart about committing federal lands and resources to oil shale production when there is as yet no viable extraction technology for the most valued deposits. These bills are just plain irresponsible."
One of the bills, H.R. 1965, would reinstate a plan to open up to 2 million acres of public lands in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado to oil shale development although companies are still researching commercially and environmentally feasible ways to produce a usable fuel from the shale.
Another provision would eliminate reforms announced by the Interior Department in 2010 that, if fully implemented, would better engage the public and reduce controversy over leasing and permitting. Pre-leasing analysis by the Bureau of Land Management has helped dramatically cut the number of protests by addressing potential conflicts upfront.
Public participation in decisions about public lands would be severely constrained by provisions charging $5,000 to protest a lease, drilling permit or right of way and limiting the conditions under which a protest could be filed.
Hunters and anglers acknowledge the need for energy and support responsible production of oil, gas and renewable energy on public lands, said Brad Powell, senior policy director of the Sportsmen’s Conservation Project at Trout Unlimited.
"Abolishing the leasing reforms is certain to increase controversy and ultimately to lead to increased protests and slower development," Powell added.
"These bills are solutions in search of problems. Nearly 7,000 federal drilling permits have been approved, but aren’t being used. More than 20 million acres are under lease for oil and gas development, but are sitting idle,’’ said Ed Arnett, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Responsible Energy Development."Under H.R. 1394, energy development would take priority, which would undermine the mandate of multiple-use management and threaten our outdoor recreation-based economy."
Hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation and tourism, much of that made possible by public lands, generate billions of dollars in revenue annually and support millions of jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. A recent report highlights several studies showing that conservation of public lands helps boost an area’s property values, employment and income levels as well as provide a competitive edge in attracting businesses and workers.
"We shouldn’t roll back common-sense leasing reforms and protections that have helped restore balance to energy development on public lands. Parts of the West are still dealing with air pollution and diminished deer herds in the wake of the last boom,’’ said Arnett. "Our public lands are a public trust. They’re intended to support a wide range of uses and must be managed responsibly so future generations can enjoy and benefit from them as we have."
Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development is a coalition of more than 500 businesses, organizations and individuals dedicated to conserving irreplaceable habitats so future generations can hunt and fish on public lands. The coalition is led by Trout Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the National Wildlife Federation.