An agency without agency: Congress attacks Interior policy

Sunset over a floral valley, California

Owens Valley, CA

Miles Morgan

Congressional Republicans continue to undermine climate and conservation wins

At the beginning of the year, as the 118th Congress took their seats, we predicted a long stretch of aggressive attacks on climate action and conservation to come, including efforts to slow down or overturn actions taken by the President and his appointees. Sure enough, in barely half a year we’ve seen regressive polluter-friendly bills that roll back environmental protections and disturbing provisions that attempt to block litigation against dangerous projects.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, Congressional Republicans are once again preparing an assault on progress — this time with heinous legislation that would kneecap the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) by retracting recent rulemaking and muzzling public support for conservation policy.

Overwhelming support for conservation policy

In March, BLM introduced a draft rule that would rebalance the agency’s management practices to equally prioritize conservation alongside other land uses. With a whopping 245 million acres of culturally significant areas, popular recreation destinations and critical wildlife habitats in its stewardship, BLM is uniquely situated to address the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss by protecting vital landscapes. The American public seems to agree — an outpouring of community support for the rulemaking saw 216,000 public comments submitted to BLM and endorsement given from businesses and advocates alike.

Predictably, extractive industries jumped to defend their stranglehold on leasing of public lands. Energy and mining corporations falsely claimed that the rule was an attempt to end leasing rather than a rebalancing of agency management to conserve nature, wildlife and cultural lands more effectively. They incorrectly asserted that the rule was a contradiction of the agency’s mission to manage public lands for multiple uses to benefit both current and future generations.

But the public failed to turn on the rulemaking, so industrial oligarchs have reached for the ace up their sleeve: pocketed Members of Congress.

An attempt to restrict the Interior Department

Last month, Representative John Curtis (R-UT) circulated a draft bill, H.R. 3397, that would take the outrageous step of forcing BLM to withdraw its conservation rule. If passed, this bill would completely shut down the in-development rule and junk public input. Over 216,000 public letters run through the shredder with one fell swoop.

What’s even more disturbing is the bill’s attempt to bind BLM to dangerous partisan politics. The second and final clause of the bill stipulates that BLM “may not take any action to finalize, implement, or enforce the proposed rule… or any substantially similar rule.” 

This is a vague catch-all explicitly designed to prevent the agency from taking any meaningful conservation action in the future. In the face of worsening climate change impacts and mounting biodiversity loss, Congressional Republicans want to block the country’s largest manager of public lands from taking any meaningful action and keep the balance of power in industry favor.

This bill looks future generations of Americans in the eye and spits in their face. There is simply no time to waste in adapting public lands management to meet the challenges of this moment. But if this bill passes, our children and our children’s children will inherit public lands plundered by extractive industries and ravaged by climate change.

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