House Bills Remove Protections for Public Lands

Do you think companies making billions drilling on your land should be required to abide by regulations to protect fish, wildlife, and habitat?

Do you think the billions that sportsmen have invested in protecting and managing these lands and the huge industries and millions of jobs that depend on sensible regulations are important?

Well, the answer from many in the House of Representatives to those two questions this week was a very loud "No!"

That was the message when House passed two bills--H.R.s 1965 and 2728--turning back reforms on public lands energy development that sportsmen's groups spent years fighting to get passed.

The votes were largely on party lines, with Republicans leading the charge for the drillers. You can find out how your rep voted on H.R. 2728 here and on H.R. 1965 here.

H.R. 2728 would allow state regulations on fracking to supersede federal regs--on federal lands! In other words, the rules for digging wealth out of property owned by all of us would be determined only by a relative handful of people living in that state--and the companies they work for.

Among the many targets are regulations protecting fish and wildlife habitat by determining how the fracking may be done, what and how much drilling material can be left behind, what kind of shape the public land should be left in when the wells run dry--and how many wells can be drilled at one time.

Notice that none of these regulations say the fracking can't be done. They only set the terms on how it can be done--something any property owner should be able to do. But the drillers and their friends in the House say you shouldn't have that right.

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development knows why companies want the state regs only.

"Where state regulations exist, enforcement is often inconsistent or even nonexistent," said Ed Arnett, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership's Center for Responsible Energy Development. "For example, 3,691 violations have been documented at well sites in New Mexico since 2010, but a lack of enforcement authority has resulted in zero fines.

"H.R. 2728 fails to recognize that energy development on federal public lands mandates a different level of public involvement than most states are required to provide."

Arnett pointed out the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, or FLPMA, requires federal lands to sustain uses other than energy production and specifically to conserve, ecological, environmental and water resources. Meeting these legal requirements, he stated, necessitates that the Interior Department have strong regulations in place.

Of course, that's just why the friends of oil and gas in the House want those federal rules out of the way.

Giving the energy industry what it wants was also the purpose behind H.R. 1965, which would roll back reforms put in place in 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon disaster polluted the Gulf of Mexico with hundreds of millions of gallons of crude oil--oil still showing up in Louisiana's marshes. It would cancel rules that require advanced environmental and economic analysis of energy leases and greater public input in the leasing process. The industry says that takes too much time away for making billions.

Trout Unlimited disagrees.

"Hunters and anglers support responsible production of oil, gas, and renewable energy on public lands," said Brad Powell, senior policy director of the Sportsmen's Conservation Project at Trout Unlimited.

"Unfortunately, H.R. 1965 would undoubtedly result in more appeals and litigation, harm fish and wildlife, and threaten hunting and angling opportunities on public lands."

Underscoring the depth of some members' unflinching loyalty to oil and gas, Environment and Energy publishing (a subscription-based website that reports on environmental and energy policy and markets) reported this: "Before the final vote, the House voted 188-232 to reject a Democratic motion to add tougher requirements that gas drillers disclose the chemicals they use in fracking. Also voted down…amendment to block exports of gas extracted from public lands, which fell 142-276."

In other words, they don't want to have to tell you what they're pumping into your land.

And when these petro-patriots tell you they're only trying to make the nation energy independent, ask them why they're selling it overseas.

Sportsmen aren't asking to stop drilling everywhere. They're only asking that it be done responsibly and that the property owners--us--be able to set some of the rules.

These bills are now in the Senate for consideration. Go to contactingthecongress.org to find how to get in touch with your senators and let them know your thoughts.