Three bills intended to expand and speed up energy development on public lands could have the opposite effect by repealing common-sense reforms that have reduced conflicts, Brad Powell, energy director for Trout Unlimited and spokesman for Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, said in a congressional hearing Thursday.
Powell told a U.S. House subcommittee that hunting and angling groups have worked with the industry and federal agencies to strike a balance between development and conservation of public lands. Balance is essential to sustaining the quality of hunting and angling opportunities and the $76 billion those activities generate nationwide annually, Powell told the House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.
“Unfortunately, we believe that the suite of bills that we are discussing today will result in significant impacts to fish and wildlife populations and result in more gridlock because of the lack of public engagement,’’ he added.
A key component of good land management is the “understanding, support and engagement of the public’’ in decisions, said Powell, a former U.S. Forest Service manager.
The three bills, H.R. 4381, H.R. 4382 and H.R. 4383, introduced last week by members of Colorado’s U.S. House delegation, would undermine federal leasing reforms that encourage responsible planning and reduce the number of lease protests, said Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development. The reforms require federal officials to address potential conflicts upfront when considering impacts on fish, wildlife and habitat.
The sportsmen’s coalition is led by the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited.
Another provision in the bills would allow development to proceed before federal resource management plans can be revised or adjusted. These plans by the Bureau of Land Management analyze where development can and should occur while considering the potential effects of energy projects on resources such as air and water quality, fish and wildlife.
Other measures would restrict the public’s ability to weigh in on decisions affecting public lands, said Michael Saul, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation. Saul noted that under the bills, it would cost $5,000 for every protest of a lease or permit.
“The bills are likely unconstitutional, too, because they would hinder the courts’ ability to remedy illegal actions by federal agencies,’’ Saul added.
“American sportsmen have steadfastly advocated for revision of the federal leasing process as a means of restoring balance to the development of public lands energy resources,” said Ed Arnett, director of the TRCP Center for Responsible Energy Development. “These recently introduced bills would undercut common-sense reforms already in place, and they would permit habitat loss due to inadequate attention given to fish and wildlife populations in the lease planning process. Hunters and anglers support responsible energy development on our federal public lands, but we cannot accept misguided approaches like these.”