Obama’s Last-Minute ‘Planning 2.0’ Rule Set For Repeal Following Key Senate Vote
A controversial overhaul of federal land-use policies, approved less than two months before President Barack Obama left office, is headed for repeal after a key U.S. Senate vote today.
In a major victory for state and local officials, farmers, ranchers and energy producers in the West, the Senate voted 51-48 to overturn “Planning 2.0,” a regulation finalized in December by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The U.S. House passed its own repeal measure last month and the White House has already pledged to sign it.
Planning 2.0 would allow the BLM “to maximize its decision-making power while effectively sidelining our Western states,” Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said today is support of a disapproval motion under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). “Management decisions of our lands are being taken from those who are on the ground … and shifted back east,” Murkowski said.
Planning 2.0 imposes a “landscape-level” planning process for federal lands that moves decisions about natural resource development away from BLM field offices in the states. The changes were needed to create a “more streamlined process,” the agency argued, but the regulation angered officials across the West.
The stakes are high because the federal government manages more than 245 million acres of surface land more than 700 million acres of subsurface minerals in the West. During last year’s rulemaking process, the bipartisan Western Governors Association (WGA) warned that Planning 2.0 “presents serious challenges and contains significant shortcomings.” The planning overhaul will create “confusion rather than clarity” and “significantly reduce the opportunity for Governors, state regulators, local governments and the public to engage in what needs to be a collaborative land management planning process for huge swaths of the American West,” the WGA said.
The National Association of Counties, which represents more than 3,000 local governments across the nation, also urged federal lawmakers “to ensure BLM’s Planning 2.0 rule does not go into effect.” These local officials joined a broad coalition, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and the National Association of Conservation Districts, in calling for the planning rule’s repeal.
Farm bureaus from across the West were also strong opponents of the new Planning 2.0 process. “BLM Planning 2.0 lacked appropriate input coupled with open and honest evaluation of the costs and impacts of the rulemaking,” the American Farm Bureau Federation wrote in a joint letter with affiliates from 12 states in the West. “BLM did not fully evaluate the impacts on consumers, public lands-dependent ranching families, energy, mining, recreation, and rural communities across the American West,” the farming groups said.
Senators from western states – the most heavily impacted by Planning 2.0 – were the strongest supporters of repeal during today’s floor debate. “The Planning 2.0 rule is an example of how little Washington bureaucrats understand about the West,” U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said. “I hope we can move the country away from this Washington-knows-best mentality, and that’s why this resolution of disapproval is so important,” Gardner said. “Let’s make sure that local voices have a place at the table.”
The Planning 2.0 regulation “minimizes the importance of energy development … as well as other uses like grazing,” U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said during today’s floor debate. Planning 2.0 promises “more uncertainty for our energy producers and more difficulty for our ranchers,” Hoeven said in support of the CRA disapproval motion.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) warned that Planning 2.0 would “fundamentally change the land planning process at the BLM” in ways that undermine local communities. “The rule shifts the planning and decision making away from the folks who know the land best,” Daines said. “That’s exactly the opposite direction that land management should be going.”
During the rulemaking process for Planning 2.0, state and local officials expressed serious concerns about how new procedures would concentrate more power at BLM headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Planning 2.0 replaces the current system of fixed planning areas with new and arbitrary zones that could include “three or four states” at a time, Kathleen Clarke, director of the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, said in testimony to Congress. The new landscape-level regulation would “fundamentally undermine the role of state and county governments in BLM planning,” she said.
“State agencies bring data, expertise, and a history with the land that the BLM doesn’t have,” she said. “County commissioners are able to articulate the interests of the people they have been elected to represent.”
During today’s Senate debate, Gardner raised similar concerns and reiterated his call to relocate BLM headquarters from the nation’s capital to a western state. “Moving the BLM headquarters to a place like Colorado or Arizona would absolutely result in better policies that work on the ground for our governors, our landowners, county commissioners, farmers, ranchers, cattlemen, energy producers, sportsmen and recreationalists,” he said.
Today’s vote was a defeat for environmental activist groups, including the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters (LCV), that worked closely with the Obama administration on regulations governing federal lands and energy development. In the days before the debate, the LCV called the CRA motion “radical” and warned it would count the vote towards the group’s National Environmental Scorecard for individual lawmakers.