Friday, July 8, 2016

BLM's Planning 2.0 proposal comes under fire at House hearing

ime to comment on BLM's proposed land-use planning rule, House lawmakers and representatives of Western states said at a hearing today. The process laid out in the proposed Planning 2.0 rule would diminish the role of elected officials and give authority to an “unaccountable Washington, D.C., bureaucracy” to make decisions on Western land-use planning, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said. Gohmert chairs the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. BLM Resource Management Plans guide decisions on grazing and mineral development on the bureau's 250 million acres out West. Ranchers and energy companies have both expressed concern over the proposed planning process. Better Food Better World Gohmert and two other GOP lawmakers - Rob Bishop of Utah, who chairs the Natural Resources Committee, and Raul Labrador of Idaho - each took turns questioning James Lyons, deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the Interior Department, which includes BLM. In between those exchanges, the lawmakers sought and received agreement from three of the witnesses - Kathleen Clarke, director of Utah's Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office; Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties; and Jim Ogsbury, executive director of the Western Governors' Association (WGA). The only witness who agreed with Lyons was Chuck McAfee, a member of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union from Montezuma County, Colorado. The BLM proposal seeks to involve local stakeholders earlier in the process - what it calls a “planning assessment” phase - and places an emphasis on landscape-level plans. The bureau says it is trying to speed up the process, which now can take a decade or more, and make it more transparent. But Clarke, who headed BLM during the George W. Bush administration, said the new process would give “unelected special interest groups … an equal seat at the table.” “I believe that in this early public assessment phase, state and local governments can participate, should they choose, but their voice will be marginalized,” Clarke said. “They have a right to sit as an elevated partner because they are sovereigns and they should not be relegated to sharing a position among the crowds.” Fontaine, representing counties, said BLM has not done enough outreach in counties with large tracts of public lands. And Ogsbury, representing WGA, said the new process would limit the scope of governors' reviews of BLM plans and give them less time to do the reviews. Lyons, however, said extensive outreach was conducted starting in 2014, including “a series of public listening sessions in Colorado and California.” BLM also “presented information on its efforts to improve the planning process and the proposed rule at multiple stakeholder events, including: the 2014 and 2015 North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, webinars hosted by the National Association of Counties, and Western Governors' Association meetings.” In addition, he said BLM's proposal preserves “the special role of state, tribal, and local government entities” in the process. Responding to requests to reopen the comment period, which closed May 25, Lyons said, “Now is the time to finalize the rule based on all the input we received.” He did say, however, that he and BLM Director Neil Kornze had spoken following a recent Senate hearing and agreed that BLM should allow more time for comment at various stages of the planning process. McAfee, the only witness who supported the proposed rule, said he could not understand “why some county commissioners are so opposed to enabling greater public participation.” Like what you see on the Agri-Pulse website? See even more ag, rural policy and energy news when you sign up for a four-week free trial Agri-Pulse subscription. “Sometimes our elected officials are too busy jockeying with the BLM about who is in control of our federal lands to even represent us at all,” he said, asserting that in Montezuma County, commissioners “spent a long time refusing to even come to the table” when BLM wanted to discuss a master Leasing Plan. Bishop did not ask McAfee any questions. Instead, he told him that if he doesn't like what the commissioners are doing, he should try voting them out of office. “I suggest you try that in the future, it's much more beneficial. We have 200 years of practice with that.” Then, directing his remarks to Lyons, he said, “By contrast, is anyone going to vote for Mr. Lyons - absolutely not.” #30 For more news, go to www.Agri-Pulse.com

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