Congress Moves To Encourage Drilling On Public Land, Sell 3.3 Mil Acres To Private Interests

The Republican-majority Congress is making fast work of their promises to expand fossil fuel development on federally owned lands.

Credit – Steven Keller, NPCA.org

As many environmentalists and anti-drilling activist anticipated, it didn?t take long for the Republican-majority Congress to make major moves to further the expansion of fossil fuel extraction nationwide. This past Monday, Congressman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) introduced H.J.Res. 46 aimed at gutting a key National Park Service regulations relating to ?General Provision and Non-Federal Oil and Gas Rights.? These regulations, also known as the ?9B? rules, require that private fossil fuel interests present detailed plans for extraction and also set safety standards for drilling within the more than 40 national parks that have ?split estate? ownership. Mostly located in the American West, these ?split estate? parks are technically government-owned except for the subsurface mineral rights, which can be claimed and traded between private interests. They include Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio), Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota), and Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado) among others.

Though this resolution may seem troubling enough in and of itself, it is just the latest resolution in a series aimed at weakening environmental protections for national parks and other federally owned lands. For instance, another measure was also introduced this past Monday to repeal the Bureau of Land Management?s planning rules that aim to balance energy development, conservation, and recreation on public lands. These legislative actions are being pushed via the Congressional Review Act (CRA) and, if signed, would not only repeal existing protections but also prevent federal agencies from issuing similar protections in the future unless they are explicitly asked to do so by Congress. The first votes regarding these measures are set to take place tomorrow, when the House will vote to repeal regulations that minimize the methane gas waste produced by oil and gas production and refinement facilities.

Another recently introduced bill aims ? not to weaken regulations on federally-owned land ? but to sell it outright to the private sector. Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who has been trying to open up federal land to fossil fuel interests for years, introduced House Bill 621, which aims to sell 3.3 million acres of national land because it serves ?no purpose for taxpayers.? The controversial bill, which has brought both hunters and conservationists together in their opposition to the measure, would specifically target mixed use land currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). While the BLM is by no means a perfect steward, selling these lands to private interest would eliminate the use of these lands by the public and further threaten the wildlife that depends on them for their survival. In addition, a controversial change to House rules would not even require that the sale generated income for the government, prompting a Utah-based Republican conservation group to liken it to ?selling the house to pay the light bill.? Given recent actions in Congress and the overall attitudes of the current Presidential administration regarding drilling, it seems unlikely that these bills and other legislative actions will receive much political opposition at the national level, leaving it up to the people to make the difference.

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