While I was writing a recent post about Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz’s withdrawal of a bill he authored to sell off 3.3 million acres of public land, I was a bit struck. People were rightly celebrating the withdrawal of the bill, but most outlets reporting on this event ignored the companion bill from Chaffetz that could strike an even more insidious blow against public land.

When Modern Hiker first looked into the Republican Party Platform’s stance on public lands and outdoor recreation last summer, we were concerned with language that seemed to cave to pressure from fringe groups like the Sagebrush Rebellion, whose aim is to force the federal government to divest itself from public lands in the West. Ostensibly this is done under the guise of “returning land to the states” (land which, in most cases, those states did not ever own or directly manage themselves), but is more realistically done to loosen regulations for destructive resource extraction like mining, natural gas and oil exploration, and timber harvesting.

Since the election, many if not most of those fears have sadly come to fruition. On the positive side, the outdoor community seems galvanized to protect the public lands we love, but it can be a bit of a hassle to keep tabs on all the different proposed laws that could pose a threat. So, we’ll be maintaining this post as a place that people can find out what legislative threats are looming for our public land – and who to contact to let them know how you feel about them.

If we missed any, please let us know!

Update: We’ve had a great response to this post and its information, but a lot of people have been confused about the lack of responsiveness from their Congresspeople or wondering what they should do if they feel strongly about these bills. Some tips:

  1. Members of Congress will, in most cases, only hear from their direct constituents. 
  2. Potentially, Committees will hear from voters outside their constituencies when a bill is in discussion in a Committee. To that regard, we have updated all of the bills with links to their Committees’ websites where you can contact them directly and find out if your Congressperson sits on that Committee. 
  3. Emails and online petitions are mostly useless. Call, fax, or send postcards.
  4. When a bill comes up for vote, call your Congressperson.
  5. After a vote happens, call your Congressperson again. Thank them if they voted the way you wanted them to, and if they didn’t – well, let them know that, too.
  6. Keep it up. This system is designed to make it difficult to give input. Don’t let it win.

image used by Creative Comnons.

HR 621 -Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017

Who Introduced It: Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3)

Phone Number: (202) 225-7751

Committee: House Committees on Natural Resources and Agriculture

Purpose: “To direct the Secretary of the Interior to sell certain Federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, previously identified as suitable for disposal, and for other purposes.”

What It Does: Puts up to 3.3 million acres of public land up for sale.

Why It’s Bad: It turns over public land to private interests, without a comprehensive process for determining whether or not that land continues to have a public recreation interest. The list of lands comes from a 1996 report from the Bureau of Land Management, and trying to determine which public land would actually be up for sale has been a confusing and labyrinthine process for those who have tried to investigate it.

Status: After a massive public blowback – and realizing that some of the affected lands were places he himself enjoyed – Chaffetz declared himself an outdoorsman on Instagram and announced he was withdrawing the bill. The bill’s status is still active on the Congressional web site and Chaffetz has introduced versions of this same bill in previous years, so we wouldn’t be surprised if it popped up again in another form. However, the 2017 version of this bill has officially been WITHDRAWN.

HR 622 – Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act

Who Introduced It: Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3)

Phone Number: (202) 225-7751

Committee: House Committees on Natural Resources and Agriculture

Purpose: “To terminate the law enforcement functions of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management and to provide block grants to States for the enforcement of Federal law on Federal land under the jurisdiction of these agencies, and for other purposes.” Full text here.

What It Does: It basically removes the power to enforce laws from the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management on any land they manage throughout the entire country. If this bill passes, law enforcement will instead be the responsibility of local agencies, which will receive a stipend from the government for their services.

Why It’s Bad: While on the surface this seems like a way to decrease federal bureaucracy and shift power to local agencies who might know the communities better, it is actually part of an insidious strategy to make it so that the Forest Service and BLM cannot enforce their own laws and rules, and are instead at the mercy of departments that may disagree with their policies and choose not to enforce them at all. In the West – and specifically in Chaffetz’s home district in Utah – there is a movement of so-called Constitutional Sheriffs that has arisen since the mid 1990s. Without any solid legal or legislative backing, this group of law enforcement officials believes themselves to be constitutionally empowered as the highest law in the land, above both state and federal officials.

In the past, these sheriffs have refused to enforce federal and state laws they did not personally agree with or like – such as the ATV protest in Utah’s Recapture Canyon in 2015. In that protest, the County Commissioner led a group of Sagebrush Rebel types (aided by the notorious Cliven Bundy clan) down a trail that was specifically closed to ATV travel by the BLM to protect Native American artifacts and delicate riparian ecosystems. The Commissioner was eventually found guilty, but the publicized and scheduled protest still caused damage to the landscape when law enforcement wouldn’t stop it from happening.

This doesn’t even address the fact that many of these smaller community and county sheriffs departments are ill-equipped to enforce laws over vast new areas of rough, inaccessible terrain, or that the Forest Service and BLM rangers currently enforcing the laws there know the land better than they would. 

Also, picture this: Your car is being broken into at a Forest Service trailhead. A ranger is nearby but they have to radio down to a city sheriff department to get someone to come up to apprehend the suspect because they are no longer allowed to enforce laws on Forest Service land. Sound like a smart system to you?

Status: In an article on Field and Stream, Chaffetz said he stood by HR 622, claiming it would reduce the number of conflicts between local sheriffs and BLM and Forest Service law enforcement. Hunters and anglers, along with hikers and other outdoor recreators, were instrumental in putting pressure on Chaffetz’s office on HR 621, and it seems at least that hunters and anglers are willing to lead the fight on 622 as well. The hunting magazine Outdoor Life calls HR 621 “A poacher’s dream, a sportsman’s nightmare.” Current status is ACTIVE. Chaffetz also introduced the same bill last year.

Cosponsors

Chris Stewart (R-UT-2) – (202) 225-9730

Mia B. Love (R-UT-4) – (202) 225-3011

Doug LaMalfa (R-CA-1) – (202) 225-3076

Mark E. Amodei (R-NV-2) – (202) 225-6155

Tom McClintock (R-CA-4) – (202) 225-2511

Paul A. Gosar (R-AZ-4) – (202) 225-2315

HR 232 – State National Forest Management Act of 2017

Who Introduced It: Representative Don Young (R-AK-At Large)

Phone Number: (202) 225-5765

Committee: House Committees on Natural Resources and Agriculture

What It Does: “To authorize States to select and acquire certain National Forest System lands to be managed and operated by the State for timber production and for other purposes under the laws of the State, and for other purposes.” Full text here.

Why It’s Bad: A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, and a bill that provides a different route to the same end-game as another bill is just the same. HR 232 is essentially a more quiet, more complicated way to achieve the same public lands selloff as HR 621, only this one is a bit more byzantine in how it works.

Instead of just putting up millions of acres of land for sale, this bill instead empowers state legislatures to purchase land from the Forest Service for ten years following its passage into law. It seems as if the States get to decide what land is up for sale and each state can take up to 2 million acres of land from the Forest Service. 50% of timber contracts on that land would have to be for a 10-year period, and it seems that what constitutes “eligible land” is basically ‘whatever the Forest Service has’ — “(2) The term “eligible portions of the National Forest System” here means “all right, title, and interest of the United States in and to the surface and subsurface lands and real property (including structures and facilities owned by the Forest Service) included as part of the National Forest System in a State.” In other words, anywhere in the National Forest System. National Monuments and Conservation Units are excluded from this land.

We are not 100% always against logging on National Forest land – timber harvesting is an important part of why these forest reserves were established in the first place.  Although it can be destructive, foresters have become much better at reforesting the landscape after a harvest – but the language in this bill does seem like it’s designed specifically to open up areas that – for one reason or another – were off limits to logging in the past.

The bill does allow for potential land swaps between the States and the Forest Service, which has both pros and cons. Similar exchanges have been used before to consolidate the “checkerboard” system of public lands in the West and to improve heavily used areas in exchange for places most visitors don’t recreate in – but these exchanges have also been criticized for putting public land up for sale without a lot of public input or ways to measure whether or not the exchange is in the public’s interest or in the interest of developers.

Status: ACTIVE.

S 33 – Improved National Monument Designation Process Act

Who Introduced It: Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)

Phone Number: (202) 224-6665

Committee: Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

What It Does: “To provide for congressional approval of national monuments and restrictions on the use of national monuments, to establish requirements for the declaration of marine national monuments, and for other purposes.” Full text here.

Why It’s Bad: S 33, S 132, S 22, and HR 243 all take aim at a turn of the century law that has been used by Presidents of both parties to bypass congressional sluggishness to preserve and protect important public lands throughout the country – the Antiquities Act.

Passed in 1906 and first used by President Theodore Roosevelt, the Antiquities Act gives the President the authority to bypass Congress to protect “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States” as National Monuments. 

The Antiquities Act sometimes gets oversimplified as an almost monarchical law – the President can just do whatever they want and decree any land a National Monument without any oversight? What a power grab, right?

The reality is a lot more complex. There are strict limits on what land can be included in an Antiquities Act designation (the language of the Act specifically states only the smallest possible amount of land is to be protected in this manner). In the overwhelming majority of instances, the Antiquities Act has not been used to unilaterally decree a new National Monument that didn’t have a long history of grassroots support and organizations that were already on the ground who had done work and could pick up that work once the designation went through. In addition, the designation of National Monuments is probably the *most* flexible of land protection plans. At least since 1996, all established National Monuments have included exemptions and protections for existing land use, even if there are plans to eventually phase out destructive uses.

Here in the Los Angeles area, the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument designation only moved forward an idea that had strong local bipartisan support but was stuck in the gears of a Republican Congress that was not interested in investments in public lands. Post-designation, the process kicked off two years of public meetings with a diverse group of preservationists and recreationalists, as well as local governments. You honestly can’t get more local and inclusive than this process, especially in the federal bureaucracy.

16 of the 19 presidents since the Act became law have used executive authority to establish or alter Monuments, and many of those Monuments eventually became some of our most treasured Parks, including Grand Canyon, Zion, Grand Teton, Great Sand Dunes, Arches, Pinnacles, Mesa Verde, and many others. It has historic importance in bypassing partisan infighting for the protection of natural and cultural treasures, and in many cases (Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes, Petrified Forest), a Monument designation fast-tracked additional protection for areas that were being looted and exploited while Congress dithered.

There are precedents for limiting the Antiquities Act – both Alaska and Wyoming now have restrictions in place on future uses of the Act within their boundaries – but all of these bills would essentially nullify the power of the President to establish Monuments. S 33 requires new Monuments to only be established through an Act of Congress, only after the State Legislatures where the Monuments are located (or are within 100 nautical miles of the proposed ocean / seashore Monuments) have approved the designation, and the process is subjected to an environmental review in line with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

This would essentially overturn the 1906 Act, rendering the President powerless to bypass a Congress swamped with special interests or too slow to react to looming threats. If the Antiquities Act were originally written like this, it is not inconceivable to image protection coming too late or not at all for many of our most treasured national landscapes.

Status: ACTIVE.

Co-Sponsors (whoa boy there are a bunch):

Dan Sullivan (R-AK) – (202) 224-3004

Steve Daines (R-MT) – (202) 224-2651

Orrin Hatch (R-UT) – (202) 224-5251

Dean Heller (R-NV) – (202) 224-6244

Jeff Flake (R-AZ) – (202) 224-4521

Mike Lee (R-UT) – (202) 224-5444

John McCain (R-AZ) – (202) 224-2235

James E. Risch (R-ID) – (202) 224-2752

Chuck Grassley (R-IA) – (202) 224-3744

Thom Tillis (R-NC) – (202) 224-6342

Roy Blunt (R-MO) – (202) 224-5721

Mitch McConnell (R-KY) – (202) 224-2541

Ron Johnson (R-WI) – (202) 224-5323

James M. Inhofe (R-OK) – (202) 224-4721

Ted Cruz (R-TX) – (202) 224-5922

Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) – (202) 224-6472

Roger F. Wicker (R-MS) – (202) 224-6253

Jeff Sessions (R-AL) – (202) 224-4124

Marco Rubio (R-FL) – (202) 224-3041

Bill Cassidy (R-LA) – (202) 224-5824

Mike Crapo (R-ID) – (202) 224-6142

Pat Roberts (R-KS) – (202) 224-4774

Thad Cochran (R-MS) – (202) 224-5054

Mike Rounds (R-SD) – (202) 224-5842

John Barrasso (R-WY) – (202) 224-6441

James Lankford (R-OK) – (202) 224-5754

Deb Fischer (R-NE) – (202) 224-6551

It should also be noted that our old friend Jason Chaffetz is also urging the Trump administration to “revoke” Obama’s Antiquities Act declaration of the Bear’s Ears National Monument, a move that is without precedent in the Act’s century-long history.

S 132 – National Monument Designation Transparency and Accountability Act of 2017

Who Introduced It: Mike Crapo (R-ID)

Phone Number: (202) 224-6142

Committee: Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

What It Does: Essentially the same thing as S 33. Full text here.

Why It’s Bad: For the same reasons as S 33.

Status: ACTIVE.

Co-Sponsors

Mike Lee (R-UT) – (202) 224-5444

James E. Risch (R-ID) – (202) 224-2752

Marco Rubio (R-FL) – (202) 224-3041

Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT) – (202) 224-5251

S 22 / HR 243 – Nevada Land Sovereignty Act

Who Introduced It: Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced S 22, while Rep. Mark E. Amodei introduced HR 243.

Phone Number: Heller – (202) 224-6244, Amodei – (202) 225-6155

Committee: Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and House Committee on Natural Resources

What It Does: “To amend title 54, United States Code, to prohibit the further extension or establishment of national monuments in the State of Nevada except by express authorization of Congress.” Read full text here.

Why It’s Bad: Both bills would exclude lands within the state of Nevada from further use of the Antiquities Act.

Status: ACTIVE.

HR 861 – Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency

Who Introduced It: Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL-1)

Phone Number: (202) 225-4136

CommitteeEnergy and Commerce; Agriculture; Transportation and Infrastructure; Science, Space, and Technology

What It Does: The bill has recently been introduced and has not yet been posted to congress.gov, but we’re guessing it has something to do with terminating the EPA.

Why It’s Bad: The EPA manages and regulates pollutants in a huge range of fields, from cleaning up toxic spills and Superfund sites after private entities absolve themselves of liabilities to ensuring drinking water is safe for consumption. The EPA is responsible for ensuring compliance also indirectly connected with agencies involved with the Clean Air and Water Acts, the Endangered Species Act, the Wilderness Act, the Food Quality Protection Act, and many, many more.

Status: ACTIVE. Not yet published in full to congress.gov. 

Co-Sponsors

Thomas Massie (R-KY-4) – (202) 225-3465

Steven M. Palazzo (R-MS-4) – (202) 225-5772

Barry Loudermilk (R-GA-11) – (202) 225-2931

HR 637 – Stopping EPA Overreach Act of 2017

Who Introduced It: Representative Gary J. Palmer (R-AL-6)

Phone Number: (202) 225-4921

Committee: House Committees on Energy and Commerce; Natural Resources; Transportation and Infrastructure; Agriculture

What It Does: Removes the ability of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gasses and other pollutants, pretends known air pollutants are not actually pollutants, removes any ability of the Clean Air Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Solid Waste Disposal Act from addressing climate change, removes pollution guidelines for oil and gas industry and dirty power plants, and prohibits the EPA from enacting any regulation, rule, or policy if it has “a negative impact on employment in the United States.”

Yeah, seriously. Read it for yourself.

Why It’s Bad: I mean, how much time do you have? It’s anti-science to the core, establishes insurmountable hurdles for future regulation (how can you possibly prove a rule wouldn’t have a negative impact on employment nationwide?), and essentially guts the nation’s core environmental and consumer protection laws all at the same time. Do you like strip mines getting to dump contaminated slurry into your watershed with zero contingency plans for public safety or mechanisms for suing for liability? If so, this bill is perfect for you!

Status: ACTIVE

Co-Sponsors: There are currently 118 co-sponsors signed on to this, sadly.

Photo used via Creative Commons License

SJR 15 / HJR 44 – Joint Resolutions to Overturn BLM’s “Planning 2.0” Rule

Who Introduced It: Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in the Senate and Liz Cheney (R-WY-At Large) in the House

Phone Number: Murkowski’s office is (202) 224-6665. Cheney’s is (202) 225-2311

Committee: Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources / House Committee on Natural Resources

What It Does: Both resolutions do the same thing: establishing “that Congress disapproves the final rule submitted by the Director of the Bureau of Land Management relating to resource management planning (81 Fed. Reg. 89580 (December 12, 2016)), and such rule shall have no force or effect.” Full text of the House Resolution can be read here; the Senate Resolution here. For those of you not super up to snuff on Bureau of Land Management rules and policies, both of these resolutions would overturn the planning procedure in the BLM known as “Planning 2.0.”

Why It’s Bad: One of the most commonly levied criticisms against federal land managers is that they don’t give the local public enough chances to learn about what’s going on or to offer input on upcoming decisions. In the Bureau of Land Management, the late Obama-era Planning 2.0 rules were implemented in part to counter this. Broadly speaking, the new policy makes more high quality scientific research and data available earlier in the planning process to more people, engages a wider-focus “landscape view” of projects for a more holistic analysis of how proposed projects and changes would affect the region, and increases opportunities for early engagement with stakeholders, Tribes, State and local governments, partner agencies, and the public. A full range of the benefits of Planning 2.0 can be read on this in-depth PDF file, but Former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell also lays out some of the benefits in this video:

Overturning this rule means the BLM has to revert back to their previous guidelines for these processes – which were last updated in 1983. Seeing as Republican legislators have introduced other bills (such as HR 622, for example) that are theoretically designed to help reduce the amounts of conflicts between BLM and locals, it’s more than a little hypocritical to undo a set of rules that is explicitly designed to increase the dialogue between the agency and the public and provide more information to more people earlier in the planning process — although it does very much fall in line with the Trump Administration’s desire to prevent scientific information and data from reaching the public.

Congress is using the Congressional Review Act to revisit this rule. That Act allows Congress to reinvestigate and remove any rule or policy enacted within the past 60 days. And more disturbingly, the Act also prohibits the reintroduction of a rule that is “substantially the same” as a rule that has been removed by the Act. So, if this overturning of Planning 2.0 is successful, it could realistically mean the Bureau of Land Management can never update their rules to provide more opportunities for public input ever again.

Both the Outdoor Alliance and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership have come out strongly against this change, which could have extremely adverse affects for the recreators, anglers, hunters, and sportsmen and women who utilize BLM land. This one is pretty wonky, but it’s also extremely important.

Status: On 2/8, the House passed this resolution. On March 7th, the Senate passed it

Co-Sponsors: There are 17 co-sponsors in the Senate.

H.Res. 5 – Changes to House Rules Section 3(q)(1)

Who Introduced It: These are changes to the House Rules. It is not yet known who introduced this specific change.

Phone Number: N/A

Committee: N/A

What It Does: “(1) IN GENERAL.—In the One Hundred Fifteenth Congress, for all purposes in the House, a provision in a bill or joint resolution, or in an amendment thereto or a conference report thereon, requiring or authorizing a conveyance of Federal land to a State, local government, or tribal entity shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending, or increasing outlays.”

Why It’s Bad: This is an extremely wonky change to the way lands are valued that could provide some fun “alternative facts” to help justify the sale of public land. Modern Hiker reader Ferrell Alman explained this in an email:

buried within 43 pages of Rules recently passed by Congress is a provision that removes roadblocks to these transfers of public land. How does it do this, you ask? It values the transfer of Federal public land at $0 (you read that correctly) for accounting purposes. So where Congress previously had to consider the budgetary consequences (positive or negative) of such land transfers, now, it essentially doesn’t. Congressional rules can be a bit dense, so let’s use an analogy to illustrate the wisdom of this rule, or rather the lack thereof:

Let’s imagine that you own a great vacation home, and that you rent this home on Airbnb when you’re not using it. Your spouse and kids love the place because it’s a wonderful vacation spot on some valuable property, and as a bonus, it generates a little extra income. Needless to say, they’d be terribly upset if you got rid of it. So when your deadbeat brother needs a place to stay, you think, “Maybe I should just give him my vacation home so he can get back on his feet. And plus, he’d really appreciate having a place of his own to care for.” Even though you know he’s just going to sell the house to fund his dream of opening a Beeper Store (because technology is cyclical, right?) But you know your kids would be mad at losing their favorite vacation spot, and your spouse would be even madder because you gave away a valuable piece of property as well as the income from renting the place.

So you go to your accountant and say “Look, my family would kill me if we lost this property and income stream by giving it to my brother. There has to be something we can do.” And your accountant says, “Sure. If we just say that the property is worth $0 and the stream of rental income is worth $0, then you can give the property to your brother without affecting your net worth, budget, or income.” You mull it over and say, “But the property IS worth money. And the rental income DOES affect my income.” And your accountant responds, “BUT…. if we just SAY that it doesn’t affect these things, then it doesn’t affect them. And then your spouse and kids can’t get mad at you because you gave away something worth $0.”

Aside from the obvious accounting fraud, this is a really poor way to run your finances. Well… this new Congressional rule contains almost exactly this logic. Specifically, it states that a conveyance (or transfer) of Federal land “shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending, or increasing outlays.” (See H. Res. 5 at Sec. 3(q)(1), 115th Congress, 1st Session). So when Congress decides to sell public land, it doesn’t have to analyze these budgetary ramifications; rather the transfer is just “not considered” to affect these metrics by default.

So when you’re calling and writing your Senators and Reps, don’t forget to throw in a word thanking them for the withdrawal of HR 621 and asking them to reconsider Section 3(q) of House Resolution 5. And next time you’re camping, hiking, hunting, or fishing on public land, remember that you helped protect our most valuable natural resource.

Alman is a former patent attorney who follows conservation and environmental legislation and litigation and also runs an outdoor retailer called Roanline

Status: Passed House and IN EFFECT. Does not need to go to Senate.

HJR 46 – Congressional Disapproval of the National Park Service rule relating to “General Provisions and Non-Federal Oil and Gas Rights”

Who Introduced It: Rep. Paul A. Goser (R-AZ-4)

Phone Number:(202) 225-2315

Committee: House Committee on Natural Resources

What It Does: “Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the National Park Service relating to “General Provisions and Non-Federal Oil and Gas Rights” (81 Fed. Reg. 77972 (November 4, 2016)), and such policy shall have no force or effect.”

Why It’s Bad: This update to the rule on oil and gas rights for the National Park Service was enacted in December, 2016, which provided more oversight for private oil and gas exploration in so-called “Split-Estate” National Park land, which is land inside National Parks where the mineral rights are not explicitly owned by the federal government. According to the Federal Register page on the original 1978 rules for oil and gas exploration,

“Although state oil and gas regulations may contain provisions designed to protect natural resources (e.g., surface and groundwater), their primary focus is on oil and gas production and protection of associated ownership interests. The purpose and focus of the NPS’s regulation of non-federal oil and gas operations is to protect the National Park System’s natural and cultural resources and visitor values and safety.”

Overturning this rule would essentially make it easier for private extraction companies to operate inside National Parks. Great deal for Gosar, who also just so happened to get $250k in campaign contributions from local energy companies.

As you might guess, that sort of activity can have some adverse effects. Again, from the Federal Register:

Such oil and gas activities may adversely impact System unit resources in various ways:

  • Surface water quality degradation from spills, storm water runoff, erosion, and sedimentation. Through site inspections the NPS has documented 26 instances of in-park operation sites with surface contamination;
  • Soil and ground water contamination from existing drilling mud pits, poorly constructed wells, spills, and leaks. Through site inspections the NPS has documented 47 instances of sites with wellhead leaks, pump jack leaks, tank battery leaks, and operations and maintenance spills;
  • Air quality degradation from dust, natural gas flaring, hydrogen sulfide gas, and emissions from production operations and vehicles. Through site inspections the NPS has documented 14 instances of notable odors emanating from the wellhead;
  • Noise from seismic operations, blasting, construction, oil and gas drilling and production operations. Through site inspections the NPS has documented 6 instances of excess noise issues from well pad equipment;
  • Noise and human presence effects on wildlife behavior, breeding, and habitat utilization;
  • Disruption of wildlife migration routes;
  • Adverse effects on sensitive and endangered species. Through site inspections the NPS has documented 15 sites with sensitive species or habitat;
  • Viewshed intrusion by roads, traffic, drilling equipment, production equipment, pipelines, etc.;
  • Night sky intrusion from artificial lighting and gas flares;
  • Disturbance to archeological and cultural resources from blasting associated with seismic exploration and road/site preparation, maintenance activities, or by spills. Through site inspections the NPS has documented 6 sites with associated cultural resources; and
  • Visitor safety hazards from equipment, pressurized vessels and lines, presence of hydrogen sulfide gas, and leaking oil and gas that can create explosion and fire hazards. Through site inspections the NPS has documented 62 instances of visitor safety hazards.

Examples of documented impacts can be found in many parks. For example, at Big South Fork natural-gas-fired pump jack engines can be heard at visitor overlooks that are 2 to 3 miles away. Simple mitigation such as a corrugated steel fence around the operations would abate this impact; however, due to the well’s grandfathered status, the NPS has been unable to require this mitigation and is therefore forced to accept this adverse impact.

Another example of avoidable impacts was found at Aztec Ruins National Monument where an operation exempt from the 1978 Regulations due to the grandfathered exemption contained a road that traversed an unexcavated archeological site. Only when this well lost its grandfathered status due to a change of operator was the NPS able to require the new operator to conduct a cultural resource survey to determine the impacts to the site. As mitigation the operator installed a layer of dirt between the archeological site and the road base to protect the resources.

Status: In committee. Similar to the Planning 2.0 rule, because this rule was enacted late in the Obama Administration, Congress can simply overturn the rule and its overturning would mean similar rules could never be enacted in the future.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Hiker, Author of "Day Hiking Los Angeles," Walking Meditator, Native Plant Enthusiast.

12 Comments

Casey Schreiner Mar 13, 2017 16:03In reply to: James Cole

Guess what? It still is.

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James Cole Mar 13, 2017 15:03

This used to be a site where I came to find local hikes..

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Scott Turner

Scott Turner Feb 17, 2017 08:02In reply to: Bill Brokob

The state's rights argument is predicated upon the assumption that local governments can do a better job of managing land than a federal bureaucracy in another part of the country will. I won't deny that there are merits to this position, as there's the potential for the kind of one-size-fits-all overreach that does not fit well with the unique conditions of a given piece of public land.

However, the counter-argument is that we must also assume that the motives of each individual state are actually going to serve public land better than the federal government. This is not always going to be the case. Consider when the Federal Courts overruled the BLM for an overreaching policy of enacting regulatory rules against fracking. You could say, and fairly, that the court is right in confining the BLM's authority to what's granted by its governing policies. On the other hand, the state of Utah went ahead with fracking, which has both wrecked the habitats and made a lot of people sick thanks to a lack of regulation of chemicals going into the water supply. Even in "liberal" California, the state parks have shown a tendency to overreach. They attempted to enact a restriction across a wide swath of public land based on the needs of one tiny little pocket of preserved habitat, even though this restriction would have been inappropriate for half of the other land parcels it would have affected.

So, in summary, it is neither bad nor good to consider a policy of transferring control from Fed to local. The pros and cons of such an approach vary according to the motivations of local lawmakers. If there is a way to demonstrate that the motives of local lawmakers will not impact the quality of habitats and the health of the public, then your position is 100% correct. However, if that is not the case, and we can demonstrate that local lawmakers are subject to just as much favoritism, corruption, and lack of oversight as any other governing body, then we can't accept that state's rights are automatically a better thing than creating more universal policies carried out by the Federal government.

The overall point is that we need to watch what government does at all levels, and if we're all in agreement that we want pristine habitats, drinkable water, and the freedom not to get cancer from chemicals floating around, then it may be more productive to drop the State vs. Fed argument and focus instead on scrutinizing policy regardless of the source.

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Bill Brokob Feb 17, 2017 05:02

I genuinely appreciate the work that has been done here and the breadth of information provided. I tend to discount the sound bites that activists on either side of any issue put out. The truth generally requires a lot more digging :-)
As someone smarter than me said, "If you want to make laws, run for congress". Reining in federal bureaucracies is a good thing. I am often struck by the environmental lobby's desperate desire to keep control at the federal level while constantly saying we cannot trust the federal government. Seems like they make an excellent case for local control. (Full disclosure, I am a huge states rights proponent) As far as LE in the parks and BLM, who is more likely to be doing that enforcement in the backcountry than those LE rangers (after simply becoming state rather than Fed employees)? How is it bad if they get more local management and support? The previous administration made a lot of 11th hour rules/regs and I include the Bear Ears in that, in an attempt to 1. Salvage a poor presidents legacy 2. Try to paint the next administration into as many corners as possible. If these were all "good things" they would not have been done at the last minute during a lame duck presidency. Your discussions of the bills is fairly balanced while still maintaining the classic environmental lobby slant. It is good that these topics are getting some actual discussion, because I fear that the JUST SAY NO approach to any use/sale/swap of public lands does not do anyone. A more balanced approach could actually make things better, but refusing to discuss the issues just keeps kicking the can down the road.

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Casey Schreiner Feb 10, 2017 21:02In reply to: Scott Dagger

No offense taken.

I just wonder, though, if you consider the BLM's actions during the Bundy standoff overmilitarized? Were they the ones aiming rifles at people?

It is clear we have differing opinions on this. I know some law enforcement that wouldn't want this extra responsibility, maybe you know some who'd want it. There is no oil under those Monuments but - as Kevin noted - there is coal, and there is ranching and grazing lands, which is what sparked the first Bundy standoff.

As I said before, it will be interesting to see what police unions and law enforcement organizations have to say about this issue. In the meantime, though, I suggest you do read up on Constitutional Sheriffs, because that is really what the heart of this issue is about. We linked to a very in-depth article on High Country News, which has done exemplary and extremely even-handed reporting on the Sagebrush Rebellion movement almost since its inception.

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Kevin C Feb 10, 2017 20:02

I fail to see the logical connection between BLM law enforcement and abolishing the EPA.
And no, while there isn't oil under Grand Staircase-Escalante NM, there is coal, and that is mostly what the GSENM fight has always been about. It's why the proponents of the bill want the Kaiparowits Plateau to magically disappear off GSENM's map.

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Scott Dagger Feb 10, 2017 00:02In reply to: Casey Schreiner

Casey,

The NPS takes care of National parks. They don't have military vehicles and automatic weapons. The BLM "manages" 67 percent of the land in Utah and over 70% of the land in Nevada. The park service does not conduct raids on peoples homes and snub their nose a local law enforcement. I don't want to offend but I think you might be naive on what is going on. These bills are to curb the abuses of the ever more militarized BLM. The are not meant to take control of the land and give it to the oil companies. There is no oil under Bears Ears. There is no oil under Grand Staircase.
Your argument that local law enforcement would not want to take over these duties is just false. Getting a block grant and hiring locals to watch over their own backyard would be absolutely welcome in these communities. They know the back country better than anyone. Let the land managers manage the land. We have major infestations of Cheatgrass, and Bark beetles. Invasive herds of horses choking out native wild life. Let the BLM and Forest service take care of the things they are good at. Law enforcement is not one of them.

I have no idea, nor have I ever heard of a "Constitutional Sheriff". Sounds like someone who has seen the abuse of the BLM and feels powerless to deal with it any other way. Here is another story of misuse from your own LA Times http://graphics.latimes.com/utah-sting/

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Casey Schreiner Feb 9, 2017 17:02In reply to: Scott Dagger

Hey Scott,

Thanks for your input - I really appreciate having an alternate viewpoint in the mix, especially from someone who's had to deal with BLM law enforcement before.

I wonder, though, what makes BLM law enforcement different from Park Service law enforcement, and why they were excluded from this handoff or why similar proposals have not (yet) been put forward for the NPS if not due to the death-by-a-thousand-cuts strategy of less-protected public land transfer? While I think you are correct in noting that locals tend to distrust the federal agencies in cases like this, this doesn't take into account Constitutional Sheriffs who have public support and refuse to enforce or follow the laws on lands the BLM or Forest Service manage. Those types of sheriffs won't be voted out, nor do they always have the training and expertise of BLM and Forest Service rangers who often have a much more intimate knowledge of the land they're working on.

I come from a law enforcement family - there are multiple generations of police officers in my close relatives - but I don't think any of them would relish the idea of having to work a larger area of terrain without the years of backcountry training and expertise those rangers have - nor would they be excited about learning reams of new federal regulations or the specific boundaries of where those regulations' jurisdictions end and where their more familiar local ones begin. It doesn't seem like many law enforcement unions or political groups have registered an opinion on HR 622 yet, but that will be interesting to see. So far, hunters, anglers, and other outdoor recreationalists seem to be fairly in unison on their opposition.

From what few decent sources I could find on Agent Love, he certainly seems like someone who needed to be ousted from his position years ago - but perhaps this specific issue could best be solved by an audit and restructuring of that region's BLM policies as opposed to essentially firing all law enforcement officers from two entire federal agencies and asking hundreds of small communities scattered throughout the West to pick up the slack?

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Scott Dagger Feb 9, 2017 15:02

Mr. Schreiner,
Although I appreciate your love for the environment, I can't help but point out the fact that your understanding of these bills is lacking. For example HR-622. People that live close to large areas of federal land are subject to two sets of law enforcement, their locally elected sheriff and his deputies, and federally appointed officers of the BLM, Forest Service, etc. The local sheriff is elected every 2 - 4 years and is subject to his constituents. If one of his deputies is abusive or does not do his job well, then the Sheriff will hear about it and take care of it or he will be voted out. Local citizens have no such power over federal land managers. They can be as abusive and over bearing to the local population as they want without any threat of losing their jobs. Who can the locals complain to? Only their federal representatives. If you want examples of abuses, simply google "Daniel Love BLM". Currently under investigation for corruption, SA Love was over the law enforcement of the BLM for Nevada and Utah. His overly aggressive tactics have attributed to deterioration of the relationship between the rural citizens of the west and the federal government. I myself have been pulled over on a county road by a BLM officer to be harassed and given a traffic ticket. He had no jurisdiction and I had to go to federal court where it was dismissed immediately.
Here is my argument, if the people of Los Angeles had a second level of law enforcement forced upon them with no representation, they would riot in the streets. You should probably investigate why all of these bills are being pushed to limit the power of the BLM and forest service before encouraging your readers to lobby against them.

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Christa Sadler Feb 9, 2017 04:02

Hi there, thanks for this list. I created one just like it in my nightmare-fueled perusal of congress.gov. There are a few others you could add: HJR 46 - This would relax the restrictions on mining and drilling on national park lands that have split rights (federal on the surface, state or privately owned mineral rights subsurface). There's HJR 45 - "Disapproving the rule submitted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior relating to management of non-Federal oil and gas rights." Same as above related to USFWS. HR 520 - "To require the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to more efficiently develop domestic sources of the minerals and mineral materials of strategic and critical importance to the economic and national security and manufacturing competitiveness of the United States, and for other purposes."

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Casey Schreiner Feb 8, 2017 19:02In reply to: Carla Stoner

Carla,

I'll send that to our web team and look into it - we just relaunched the site recently so there may still be gremlins hiding out in darkened code corners.

As far as who to contact - most offices won't give you the time of day if you're not a constituent, but calling and telling them that you enjoy our public lands and don't want to see them damaged is a good tactic. Flooding their phone lines will definitely send a message that they're unpopular.

I would also recommend getting in touch with your local Representatives and Senators. They need to know they have support voting against these measures, and depending on what committees they're on they may even be able to kill these bills before they come up for a full vote.

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Carla Stoner Feb 8, 2017 19:02

I am unable to register. When I try to change the assigned password, I get a message that the link is invalid.
Also, I have a question. Do we contact the sponsors of these bills or our local reps?

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