The Biden administration’s proposal to lock up federal land and restrict traditional uses, such as energy development, is encountering strong opposition from various stakeholders. In March, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) introduced federal regulations that would allow environmental organizations opposed to fossil fuel drilling and mining projects to lease land for conservation purposes, effectively impeding resource development. The comment period for the rule was extended until Wednesday, and the BLM has received over 170,000 comments.
Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen criticized the proposal, stating that it flagrantly violates federal law and goes beyond the scope of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). Knudsen argued that the proposal represents a significant policy change that should be enacted through legislation, not BLM regulations. He also suggested that it potentially violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires federal agencies to provide sufficient reasoning for the regulations they implement.
Knudsen, along with other state attorneys general, penned letters opposing the proposal. These letters highlighted that the BLM’s actions would harm industries such as energy, mining, agriculture, and cattle, while also contravening the FLPMA of 1976. The FLPMA mandates the BLM to manage lands for multiple uses, including energy development, grazing, recreation, and mining.
The BLM’s proposal seeks to elevate conservation to an equal level with other uses and aims to enhance climate change resilience, preserve wildlife habitats, protect landscapes, and safeguard cultural and natural resources on public lands. The rule would permit organizations to bid on land for specific restoration or mitigation activities.
However, critics like Knudsen argue that conservation is not explicitly listed as an approved use under the FLPMA and that the BLM’s proposal effectively restricts federal land for conservation purposes without the necessary approval from Congress. In addition to attorneys general, industry groups, including mining associations, cattlemen’s associations, farmers’ groups, and oil industry organizations, have expressed their concerns about the proposed rule during the comment period.
These stakeholders assert that the proposal represents a significant departure from how the BLM currently manages federal lands under the FLPMA’s multiple-use mandate. They contend that the rule violates the FLPMA by adding conservation as a use without proper congressional authorization. Various organizations and associations have called for the withdrawal of the rule and emphasized the potential negative impacts on small businesses, ranchers, and electricity infrastructure development.
As opposition to the proposal intensifies, the fate of the BLM’s regulations remains uncertain.