Hearing: House Committee on Natural Resources June 21, 2023 – IFAI Notes

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Hearing: House Committee on Natural Resources 

21 June 2023 


Overview: The Committee held a hearing over several bills, but the main bill of conversation was over H.R. 3397 proposed by Rep. Curtis, to require the Director of the Bureau of Land Management to withdraw a rule of the Bureau of Land Management relating to conservation and landscape health. 

There were several amendments proposed by: 

  • Rep. Curtis– suggesting a change of the name, as well as the withdrawal of BLM propose rule. 
  • Rep. Lee– offering a technical correction. 
  • Failed- Chairman Westerman agreed that the bill was too vague, but there were other issues with the administration that could cause issues going forward. 
  • Rep. Grualva– suggesting a change in the public comment period. 
  • Failed- Chairman Westerman said that the public comment period should be a bigger focus, and not limited. 
  • Rep. Kamlager- Dove- suggested that the Act not take effect until “the Secretaries determine, in consultation with Tribes, that Section 2 of this Act will not have an adverse impact on tribal cultural or sacred sites.” 
  • “I did speak earlier about the need to recognize the sovereign rights of our indigenous communities, which is why I’m offering an amendment to the legislation. My amendment would simply ensure that tribal sacred sites and cultural resources would not be adversely impacted before the enactment of the legislation It is super simple. And believe it or not, tribes are listening to this Committee, and they want to know if we are speaking for them or speaking with them. 
  • “They want to know if we are willing to engage with them and protect their sovereign rights when it comes to their land. And my amendment says that we do. I hope that my colleagues agree that we should make certain all legislation that we pass will not further contribute to cultural loss and destruction of sacred sites, but rather brings together federal land managers and tribal nations to develop land management policies that integrate traditional ecological knowledge and protections for sacred sites and cultural resources. When proposed projects could impact tribal nations and their citizens. 
  • “It’s called co stewardship. So, I urge my colleagues to support my amendment and I yield back. 
  • Rep. Westerman spoke in opposition to the amendment. 
  • “The BLM has had four opportunities before this Committee to explain the rule to the satisfaction of the members of this Committee, concerned stakeholders and members of the public. So far BLM has failed to do so in addition, the BLM has not proven why this rule is necessary to protect tribal, cultural, or sacred sites. Either the BLM is already doing that now without this rule, or they can issue a specific rulemaking to address cultural sites. But that’s not what this rule is. This rule is about locking up lands for multiple use. The general lady’s amendment specifies that this bill shall not go into effect until the Secretary is determined that the bill would not have an adverse impact on travel sacred size. This is perplexing as the proposed rule itself does not even mention sacred sites once. This amendment is also vaguely drafted, as is unclear which secretaries this amendment is in reference to. This is the issue that we have with the proposed rule is so broad and ill-defined that nobody knows what its purpose is. This amendment only further proves the point. And while I believe that federal agencies should conduct proper and adequate tribal consultation, as I mentioned earlier, this amendment is duplicative of processes that are already required federal agencies. The key is having the federal agencies do the job that Congress has told them to do. The United States has a special government to government relationship with each federally recognized tribe. Federal agencies are required to consult with federal recognized federally recognized Indian tribes and Alaska Natives when proposed actions may affect their interest. And while I recognize that not all tribes believe that there are equivalent standards of consultation among agencies, this amendment is not the appropriate vehicle with which to address such a complex issue. Unfortunately, this amendment does not address the broader concern that the BLM has failed to consult with stakeholders across the board. Several members of Congress current lease holders and stakeholders have asked for more listening sessions and a comment period. As I mentioned earlier, the BLM gave them easily 15-day extension, but has not announced any more listening sessions.” 

Opening statements: 

Chairman Westerman:  

  • Today we’re also advancing HR 3397, which would require the Bureau of Land Management to withdraw their proposed land lockup rule. Given first-hand accounts of how BLM is proposal would devastate the 1000s of men and women in their states that depend on access to BLM lands for grazing, hunting, mineral access, outdoor recreation, and much more.  
  • During our hearing, BLM announced they would extend the public comment period on their proposed rule for an additional 15 days, which is a laughable attempt to save face amid a firestorm of state and local opposition to this rule.  
  • Representative Curtis sponsor of HR 3397 summed it up best last week when he pointed out that BLM has yet to visit Utah to hear comments on this rule, despite his state being one that will withstand much of the impact 15 days isn’t a lot of time to make it out to any Western states, as requested by members of this Committee, especially if the BLM actually cares to actually listen to the voices on the ground.  
  • HR 3397 restores reason to federal regulations that prevents the BLM from implementing this or any similar rule in the future. With millions of Americans relying on BLM land to sustain their way of life. This kind of immediate action is urgently needed.” 

Rep. Curtis’s opening statements: 

  • Clarified that his bill was not created with “devious intent of clearing off regulation so we can go destroy these lands… with this rule of the BLM that’s under consideration, we’re trying to pull back.”  
  • He further pointed out different aspects of interaction with other land management plans, “The BLM can designate areas for critical environmental concerns administratively, and it goes on and on the layers of protection that are on these lands. And so, I question why the BLM wants the ability to act without Congress, without the same public process that’s been put into place… So, I respectfully asked my colleagues to consider these points and understand what it is that we’re trying to accomplish, and why this rule is put into place.” 

Rep. Grijalva used his opening statement to clearly convey his opposition for the bill, which he referred to as “partisan, extreme and quite frankly, bizarre attack on conservation.” 

  • The BLM has proposed rule, which this bill strikes down before the public comment period has even ended is unnecessary, and long overdue update to the framework to Public Lands Management. And despite claims from my Republican colleagues, it does not prioritize conservation over other multiple uses.” 

Rep. Pete Stauber spoke in support of HR 3397, saying that it was a “bill to stop the Biden administration’s land grab… Simply stated, this proposed rule is a threat to our way of life.” 

Rep. Jared Huffman also spoke against HR 3397, saying that he believes “this bill, unfortunately, is not the rulemaking that it targets that is the overreach… these are public lands, they belong to the people of the United States not to extractive industries that too often assume that our public lands belong exclusively to them.” 

Rep. Rosendale pointed out that, “I find it quite disturbing that the comment period, although it was extended by 15 days, not a single hearing is being held in the areas where the land is even located, where the land that they rule is going to address is located.  

Rep. Cliff Bentz also voted against the rule, stating that there is a lack of definition of what is conservation. “This rule would arm the BLM with an open season on what it thinks should be conservation.” 

Rep. Sydney Kamlager- Dove opposed her colleague’s statements, “The rhetoric surrounding the BLM proposed rule has claimed it as nothing more than a mere land grab by the federal government, and this could not be further from the truth…The proposed rule is an avenue to conserving not only our public lands, but tribal sacred sites and cultural resources. It is also about respecting the sovereign rights of our indigenous communities. The proposed rule would allow sacred sites and cultural resources to be placed under conservation leases for preservation and protection. And as a step in the right direction to strengthening cultural preservation. 

  • The United States has a shameful history of dispossession of land through federal policy statutes and cultural and physical violence inflicted upon indigenous peoples, such as the Indian Removal Act and the dissolution of tribal governments and reservations under the termination era. And I do know that some don’t believe in acknowledging our uncomfortable history. But that is just the truth. Our government’s past actions were not only a land grab from indigenous peoples but left a lasting impact on the generation to come. 
  • These policies have led many to many tribal communities losing access to sacred sites, traditional foods, medicine and resources and intergenerational trauma. As members of Congress, we have an obligation to uphold the trust and treaty responsibility. While we have legislation such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, they are not implemented to the full degree of their intent, unless the idea is to be disingenuous when it comes to our relationship with our indigenous communities. You know, the lack of imagination is never a compelling argument. 
  • And nor should it be a reason to unravel the proposed rule in such a grand and overreaching fashion. It’s much more important, I think, to be, you know, surgical, to be thoughtful, and to be conservation focused. When we are thinking about these kinds of actions, I guess I would also like to add, and this is my personal belief that we don’t own the land, we’re just stewards of this land. I would hope that we would be thoughtful enough to include that in our decision-making process. 
  • Nevertheless, BLM has proposed rule as an opportunity to strengthen existing protections for tribal sacred sites and cultural resources. And we should be ensuring that all legislation passing through this Committee strengthens tribal sovereignty and cultural preservation. 
  • And I strongly support Mr. Curtis’s and Mr. Fulcher is Bill HR 3397. That would require the Director of Bureau of Land Management to withdrawal this agency rule. And it would also prevent the BLM from issuing a substantially similar rule in the future.” 

Chairman Westerman disagreed. 

  • “This bill, I think, as much broader applications in it, it’s another usurp of congressional authority. And I know it’s been argued about it looks like Republicans are opposed to conservation. But I think we must understand what conservation is and that all federal land managers should be practicing conservation, no matter what youth is applied to the land conservation is it’s an ethos, it’s a way you do stuff… And I’ll tell my friends on the other side of the aisle that this cuts both ways. 
  • “I woke up this morning was reading the local newspaper from Hot Springs, Arkansas, and it was talking about a lithium mine in Nevada. And this is when the when BLM takes matters into their own hands. And it can push policies that that we don’t lock on the Republican side of the aisle. And I’m sure that some of our friends on the Democrat side of the aisle don’t like it.  
  • “But this is a direct quote from a young lady, Native American, 25 years old. And this is a direct quote from her from this article, it says lithium ions in those who push for renewable energy, the agenda, the green New Deal is what I like to call green colonialism. So, this is a young Native American lady who’s thing the green New Deal is causing this term I found fascinating of green colonialism. 
  • “We talk about environmental justice and rots in this Committee a lot. But some people are viewing the green new diligent about administration’s energy policies as a form of green colonialism. And it was also fascinating in this article, that they were talking about consultation, something we hear about a lot in here. And we’re talking about this rule that BLM is pushing forward and they’re not going to the States and the people that are affected. From this article. It said the BLM did two online meetings on this project and no in person meetings. Does that sound familiar? Sounds like the same rule that we’re talking about here. 
  • “There was a there were 28 tribes, but letters were sent to only three. And Gary McKinney, a member of the duck Valley Shoshone Paiute, tribe said that the consultation kind of skipped us. He went on to say they taped the notice on the door and called that adequate notice. So, you see a unique situation here… 
  • “In the same article, Deb Haaland and Tracy stone Manning defending the right to go in and in mind, and to develop the green New Deal on the renewable energy projects. And you see pushback from people who are saying we’re not getting enough public notice we’re not having enough say in the process. And it’s because it’s not Congress making these rules. It’s people who are unelected and answer to no one that are making these rules. 
  • “So that’s why I see this bill is a much bigger issue and why it should be a bipartisan effort to rein in the this out-of-control bureaucracy that we see embedded in the administration and multiple agencies. 

Rep. Raúl Grijalva spoke up. 

  • And as part of the discussion, I think that this Committee in the past, and certainly looking forward, has dealt with the issue of codifying into law, tribal consultation as meaningful Tribal Consultation. And I think we need to pursue that as questions come up about what that process is. And I will not claim that every administration including this one is doing tribal consultation in a meaningful way; they’re not. 
  • And that has been one of the urgencies to make that codified into law so that everybody follows the law. There’s a level of uniformity, certainty. And we’re compliant with our trust responsibility as a Congress. That aside, this is a straightforward amendment, that simply points out a double standard at work here.” 

Rep. Susie Lee also offered an amendment, “I believe it would be premature to terminate the BLMs rulemaking process here before the agency has had a chance to fully develop and read and define its proposal not to mention before there’s been an actual roll for us to be able to even evaluate, but I asked those who disagree with me on this broader point to join me in supporting my amendment to ensure that HR 3397 approaches the public lands role with precision rather than with the kind of abandon that would threaten the BLM ability to advance conservation and its rulemaking all together.” 

All amendments to bill HR 3397 were denied.