The Wilderness Society strongly opposes and urges lawmakers to reject the Federal Land Freedom Act, H.R. 3565, which hands over management of public lands to states and eliminates essential safeguards that protect America’s lands and water.

The bill was given a hearing today in the House Natural Resources Committee, led by Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah).

The following statement is from Brad Brooks, director of the public lands campaign at The Wilderness Society:

“This bill takes land that belongs to all Americans and sells it out to the oil and gas industry by prioritizing energy production over wildlife, hunting, fishing, biking and other recreational uses. It gives the keys to all decision making on energy development to states and industry while blocking the public from enjoying their own lands. Whether national parks, forests, wildlife refuges or BLM lands, America’s public lands belong to all of us and must be managed for the benefit of the entire nation, not just oil and gas companies.”

Background

H.R. 3565 attempts to legitimize the false premise that the federal government is hindering oil and gas production on public lands.  Energy developers have chosen to limit investment due to market forces and other factors outside of government control. According to Wilderness Society analysis, nearly 200 million acres of the federal mineral estate are open for leasing. In 2015 only 15 percent of all land offered in lease sales was actually purchased by industry.

H.R. 3565 would undermine bedrock environmental safeguards, endangering air, water and wildlife.  Plus, it would eliminate the process that guarantees the public’s opportunity to participate in decision making about public land.  Specifically, the bill would block protections provided by the Endangered Species Act, National Historic Preservation Act, National Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedures Act.

Moreover, states lack the funding, staffing and expertise necessary to manage oversight of federal oil and gas development.

H.R. 3565 is part of a larger agenda to sell out or sell off the nation’s shared public lands.  Other bills to dispose of public lands are quickly gaining traction in Congress. The Mojave County Federal Lands Management Act, introduced by Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), S. 467 would not only mandate the sale of a large quantity of public land in Arizona for purposes of deficit reduction, but it would also set a new precedent of giving local county elected officials the power to decide which lands to sell and waive requirements to include the public in the decision. This bill received a hearing in July in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining.

In January, the House of Representatives voted along party lines to change the way the Congressional Budget Office accounts for selling off public lands. This rule says, in effect, that giving away national parks, forests and other public lands has no dollar impact on the federal budget. Which makes it easy for Congress to give away to states land that belongs to all Americans. Cash-strapped states would sell or lease much of this land for indiscriminate mining, drilling and logging.

Several members of Congress and more than a dozen state legislatures have advocated legally questionable land giveaways, turning public lands over to state control. Republican and Democratic voters alike reject this idea. Yet pursuit of this agenda, with support from the Koch brothers and pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, erodes the idea of conserving our natural heritage for future generations.  The Outdoor Retailer show, traditionally held in Salt Lake City, decided on February 16 to take its show out of Utah due to the state’s continued hostility toward federal lands (Salt Lake Tribune story).

The Wilderness Society is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than one million members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org.

Contacts:

Kate Mackay, Communications Director, The Wilderness Society, kate_mackay@tws.org; 602-571-2603

Brad Brooks, Director, Public Lands Campaign, The Wilderness Society, 208-350-2079, 208-870-9043

Michael Reinemer, Deputy Director, Wildlands, 202-429-3949, michael_reinemer@tws.org

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