Rep. Erik Paulsen likes to present himself as a good steward of American lands. Back in 2013, he introduced legislation that authorized the U.S. Treasury to mint commemorative coins to celebrate the foundation of the National Park Service.
It’s a nice gesture. But Paulsen’s voting record tells a different story about how much he values public lands.
Take, for instance, his vote in favor of H.J.Res. 44, a bill that reversed an Obama-era Bureau of Land Management rule that streamlined the Bureau’s rulemaking process, increased public input and access to BLM decisions, and strengthened partnerships between affected states, local governments, and Indian tribes. According to the text of the rule:
“Resource management plans [will be] better able to deal with modern pressures on the public lands and to adapt to changes to conditions on the land. This will be done in part by gathering high quality information, including the best available scientific information, from all relevant sources to inform land management, and by retaining flexibility to plan at the appropriate scale to deal with changing resource issues.”
The BLM oversees about 245 million acres – about 10 percent of all American land. An efficient and transparent BLM, therefore, is crucial for the continued protection of American public lands.
Conservation groups offered strong support for the new BLM rulemaking process. Just prior to the Senate’s vote on the nullification of the rule, the National Parks Conservation Association said in a statement, “National parks throughout the West are surrounded by BLM lands, [and] this rule helps ensure that benefits and impacts to these national park landscapes are considered when the BLM prepares its management plans.”
Another conservation group, the Outdoor Alliance, also fought to maintain the new rulemaking process. In a statement, the group said, “[The new BLM rule] opened up a whole new level of public participation, creating a more transparent process that gives lots of opportunities for the people who love public lands to shape how those lands are managed. It also does a much better job of recognizing the importance of recreation, including for local economies, and greatly improves the agency’s ability to handle data. Right now, some members of Congress are upset because they see that this new initiative could undercut the privileged position of extractive interests on public lands.” The statement also warned that undoing the BLM rule would “roll back important environmental safeguards.”
The Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public policy and serving the public interest, also opposed H.J.Res. 44. Ken Rait, director of the America’s Western Lands initiative at the Trusts, wrote to the Senate in defense of the BLM rulemaking process. “Increased public participation will ensure that the BLM has the best available information at the start of the planning process, before issuing draft management plans,” he wrote. “The broad consideration of issues at this earlier stage is expected to reduce controversy later in the planning process, and reduce litigation after the plan is issued. [The BLM rule] also includes steps to ensure that important fish and wildlife habitats, such as migration corridors and intact habitats, are identified early in the planning process so these important areas can be managed and conserved as the agency makes decisions about development, recreation and other public land uses.”
The updated BLM rule was precisely the sort of commonsense modernization that responsible governments should implement. But one of the first acts of the current Congress was to abolish it.
Republicans, including our own Rep. Paulsen, led the charge to nullify the rule. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) criticized the rule for being “rushed through in the waning days of the Obama administration,” despite the fact that it spent over 18 months in development.
The fossil fuel industry, as it usually does when issues regarding land use and environmental protection are at stake, joined Republicans in opposition. Industry representatives actively opposed the rule, suggesting that it would make planning more difficult – a strange argument, since its express purpose was exactly the opposite.
Rep. Paulsen himself was silent about the legislation. But looking at his donor record, it’s obvious why he voted to keep power over public lands out of public hands. His largest donor in the 2015-2016 campaign cycle was Xcel Energy, a company that runs coal and natural gas-fired power plants in eight states.
After H.J.Res. 44 passed the House and Senate, President Trump signed it into law on March 27.
By supporting the passage of H.J. Res. 44, Rep. Paulsen has further diminished federal protection of public lands and minimized meaningful public involvement over how those lands are used.
Featured image via YouTube.