Sportsmen: Energy bill would gut leasing reforms

Hunters, anglers reject assault on balanced energy development and the public’s right to speak out on decisions affecting their lands

06-26-2014 // Judith Kohler

Elk on the CMRA bill in the U.S. House would undermine reforms that strike a better balance between conservation and energy development on our public lands and ensure that the public has a say in managing those lands, a national sportsmen’s coalition said Wednesday.

The Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition said H.R. 4899 would gut oil and gas leasing reforms enacted in 2010. The reforms were intended to reduce conflict and balance oil and gas development with the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat, hunting and angling opportunity, and local communities nationwide that benefit economically from outdoor recreation and tourism.

"The whole point of the Interior Department’s 2010 oil and gas leasing reforms was to address conflicts and concerns upfront, before leasing. The public gets a chance to weigh in on lands that belong to all Americans, the principle of multiple use of the land is recognized and the industry has more certainty," said Kate Zimmerman, the National Wildlife Federation’s public lands policy director. "This bill would blow that all up and instead of fewer protests, which we’ve seen, we’ll have more turmoil and conflict."

The bill, which repackages previous egregious proposals, prioritizes energy development over all other uses of our public lands, SFRED representatives said. Federal land managers would be required to lease arbitrarily determined percentages of public lands and speed up approval of leases regardless of potential impacts to fish, wildlife and other resources. The bill would also resurrect a plan to open nearly 2 million acres of Western public lands to oil shale production even though a technologically and economically sound process doesn’t exist.

Much of the public would be shut out of decisions about whether public lands should be developed. The bill imposes new fees and many people couldn’t afford the $5,000 fee to protest leases, drilling permits or rights of way. A proposed amendment would further cut out the public by restricting the Bureau of Land Management’s ability to cancel, defer or cancel leases.

The bill, as previous similar proposals, is a solution in search of a problem, SFRED said. The coalition, led by the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited, submitted comments on the bill to the House.

"Domestic oil production is at record highs and companies are shutting in natural gas wells  because of low prices. So why are some members of Congress trying to remove the public from public lands management?’" asked Corey Fisher, energy team lead for Trout Unlimited. "As hunters and anglers, we know how vital these public lands are to the $646 billion outdoor recreation industry and the communities that depend on it. We can balance energy development with great hunting and fishing, but not if Congress takes away opportunities for sportsmen to get a fair shake when the places they hunt and fish are proposed for drilling."

"Rather than introducing and passing bills that take us nowhere toward a balanced, comprehensive energy policy, Congress needs to address real solutions," said Ed Arnett, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Responsible Energy Development. "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."

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