WASHINGTON – Two bills being voted upon this week by the U.S. House of Representatives would undermine leasing reforms intended to balance energy development activities on public lands, require a set percentage of nominated acres to be offered for lease regardless of potential impacts to fish and wildlife, and limit the federal government’s ability to conserve public lands resources important to hunters and anglers, Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development announced Tuesday.
“These bills continue the onslaught on public lands that attempts to prioritize energy development over all other resources values,” said Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife Federation’s public lands policy director. NWF is a member of the SFRED coalition. “There is nothing strategic about an energy policy that eliminates balance between development and other resources values and threatens the nation’s vibrant and critically important outdoor recreation-based economy.”
House bill H.R. 1965 would cancel onshore oil and gas leasing reforms introduced by the Interior Department in 2010. By enabling advance analysis of potential energy leases and increasing opportunities for public engagement, the reforms have benefitted both industry and sportsmen by reducing the prevalence of lease protests. Early engagement by the public in the leasing process, large-scale planning, and identification of key habitat areas well in advance of leases being offered all are common-sense components of the reforms.
H.R. 1965 also would require that the Secretary of the Interior offer for lease at least 25 percent of the annual nominated acreage of public lands not previously made available. These leases would be offered arbitrarily, regardless of potential impacts to fish and wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing opportunities.
“Hunters and anglers 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, also an SFRED member. “Unfortunately, H.R. 1965 would undoubtedly result in more appeals and litigation, harm fish and wildlife, and threaten hunting and angling opportunities on public lands.”
A vote on H.R. 1965 was expected to occur later Tuesday.
House bill H.R. 2728 undermines federal regulations for hydraulic fracturing in favor of state-based rules, specifically prohibiting the Department of the Interior from enforcing permit requirements regarding fracking activities if any state has a regulation, guidance or permit for that activity. This prohibition would be in effect regardless of whether a state’s rules meet federal responsibilities concerning management of federal public lands. At the present time, state regulations are inconsistent, and levels of enforcement capacity are highly variable.
“Where state regulations exist, enforcement is often inconsistent or even nonexistent,” said Ed Arnett, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Responsible Energy Development. The TRCP is an SFRED member. For example, 3,691 violations have been documented at well sites in New Mexico since 2010, but a lack of enforcement authority has resulted in zero fines.
“H.R. 2728 fails to recognize that energy development on federal public lands mandates a different level of public involvement than most states are required to provide,” said Arnett, noting that the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, or FLPMA, requires that federal public lands be managed to sustain uses other than energy production and specifically to conserve, ecological, environmental and water resources. Meeting these legal requirements, he stated, necessitates that the Interior Department have strong regulations in place.
Hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation and tourism, much of that made possible by public lands, generate hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue annually and support millions of jobs. A recent report highlights several studies showing that public lands conservation boosts an area’s property values, employment and income levels as well as attracts businesses and workers.
“Rather than introducing and passing bills that take us nowhere toward a balanced, comprehensive energy policy, Congress needs to address real solutions,” said Arnett. “Our public lands are 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.”
A House vote on H.R. 2728 was expected to take place Wednesday.