The oil and gas industry joined livestock producers and Western state governors in challenging a Bureau of Land Management proposal to overhaul the way it develops regional resource management plans. The concern is that the new planning process would limit state and local input into the plans, which regulate energy development and other uses on BLM lands.
BLM argues that the proposal, known as , would allow the agency to respond to “environmental, economic and social changes in a timely manner” while increasing public involvement in plan development. The public would be invited to provide scientific data to BLM early in the planning process, and BLM would provide an upfront planning assessment prior to developing a land use plan. The planning assessment would detail existing environmental, ecological, social and economic conditions in the planning area.
At a recent Senate hearing, BLM Director Neil Kornze said it can take a decade or more to complete a plan under the process, which dates back to 1979. “It’s essential that we have a planning process that is timely, open and focused on issues that matter to the people of the communities that are impacted,” he said.
He said the proposal was designed to “figure out how do we go faster, how do we make this more transparent?”
But Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said it would shift control over resource management plans from local and district offices to Washington. The new planning process would be “less efficient, more costly, and marginalize experts who are integral to public land management,” he said.
Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said the proposal would weaken the input of local and state officials. He said that the BLM’s concern about responding to social and environmental change appeared be at odds with its legal obligation to manage the land for “multiple use and sustained yield.”
He said the proposal would shift the “input and decision-making further from those agency personnel with a working knowledge of the resource, the resource challenges and the resource- dependent community.”
The Western Energy Alliance, which represents independent oil and gas producers, said in filed with BLM that the landscape-level plans would extend across traditional boundaries and involve multiple field offices and states. Individual areas could have overlapping plans, lengthening the planning and permitting process, the group said.
Existing plans “respect state borders because the interests of states are not something that can be lightly brushed aside in the name of ill-defined landscape-scale principles,” the group said. “Implementing overlapping plans for multiple areas will lead to confusion and contradiction.”
A fiscal 2017 appropriation bill pending in the House would require BLM to provide additional time for public comment on the proposal. The Senate version of the Interior-Environment bill contains report language urging BLM to work with states and local government representatives “to address their concerns with the proposed rule.”
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