A workover rig operates on an oil pad in southern Campbell County. The future of public landw in the West hinges on the actions of Congress under a Trump presidency. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

The House Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday continued its push to give states as much control over federal fossil fuel management as possible.

The Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources debated two bills — one clearing the path for state agencies to take over oil and gas leasing and regulation, and another to transfer about 7.2 million acres of federal land to the state of Nevada.

Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) said the bills “further the important goals of the broader committee,” headed by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) — a leader in the push to reduce federal land ownership in the West.

Lamborn said federal land divestiture and states’ rights are key goals. He also said putting state regulators in charge of public lands wouldn’t undermine environmental protection.

“There’s a thought that we who live in these states don’t care about them and people on either coast need to tell us what to do,” he said.

Neither bill stands much of a chance under President Obama, but with President-elect Donald Trump soon to occupy the White House, subcommittee ranking member Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) took issue with the “radical proposals that would completely reshape public land management for the benefit of private interest.”

He said, “Many people throughout the West feel [this is] a return to the drill-first-drill-always mentality of the Bush administration. I hope that won’t be the case, but bills like this make me concerned.”

Lowenthal argued that federal land transfers would actually limit local input by bypassing federal laws with public consultation provisions.

Pointing to North Dakota’s drilling bust, he said energy development provided “ephemeral” jobs while putting economies based around recreation and tourism at risk.

Nevada bill

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) said it took a year of “begging,” not the election, to get a hearing for his Nevada land transfer bill, H.R. 1484.

The bill would give the state lawmakers power to select federal lands — excluding national parks and other protected areas — to fulfill requirements in the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864, which laid out conditions for statehood.

Nevada cattle rancher and Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl, co-founder of the American Lands Council, said he told Trump about the potential economic benefits of the bill during an August meeting.

“If you have a hotel that has 10 floors on it and eight of those floors were controlled by a bureaucracy that you had virtually no control over that was over 2,000 miles away, how would that work? He said, ‘I think you’re actually closer to 90 percent controlled by the federal government.'”

Vermont Law School professor Hillary Hoffmann, like many other legal scholars, dismissed the argument about enabling legislation mandates.

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“The bill states that the federal government promised all new states that it would dispose of federally controlled lands within each state upon admission, however neither the text of the Nevada Enabling Act, the historical context or the Supreme Court authority interpreting the Enabling Act supports this construction,” Hoffman said.

States taking over large swaths of land would tax states. “There is going to have to be more oil and natural gas extraction basically to help Nevada shoulder the burden,” she said.

Amodei said other legal experts disagree with Hoffmann. “Regardless of whether the professor is right or somebody else is right, Congress has the inherent authority to pass a federal lands law,” he said.

Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana questioned why bill supporters were not simply trying to forge cooperative management agreements, which exist in many places nationwide.

“We have hoped for years for management, through collaboration and in accordance with existing federal statutes, and we haven’t got it,” Amodei said, arguing the bill would preserve access for hunting, fishing and other purposes.

Nevada bill

Tennessee Republican Rep. Diane Black’s H.R. 866, would exempt state regulators from fundamental federal environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

“The resurgence in oil and natural gas development underway in this country is an opportunity for us to achieve true American energy security,” she said of her “Federal Land Freedom Act.”

Nick Loris, an energy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, said President Obama only stood in the way of the boom.

“Centuries worth of coal, oil and natural gas lie beneath American soil and while federally owned lands are full of energy potential, much of this potential is unrealized because of moratoriums, de facto moratoriums and regulatory barricades that provide little, if any, environmental benefit,” he said.

This article was written by Dylan Brown of E&E Publishing — Ed.

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  1. Not all federally owned and controlled lands have the same history. In Eastern Montana most of the BLM lands were homesteaded and left Federal ownership, and I would think would have met the standard of leaving Federal ownership. Those homestead lands were purchased by the Federal Government to give the failing homesteaders money to leave on. The Feds purchased those lands just like a private purchaser often did in those years.

    I have noticed that the lands that the State of Montana controls as school lands for income are often rated higher for carrying capacity to generate more money than adjacent private or federal land in our area. It is a lot easier to jigger Helena than DC on such things. Further I don’t think Montana has the where with all to fight fire and manage the Federal lands should it get control of them. It should have to purchase from the Feds the lands purchased as Bankhead-Jones Act lands.

  2. The struggle to save our public lands is going to be a long one. These business interests have more money than God and plenty of politicians in their hip pockets. They will probably never give up. Only strong vocal public support can thwart them. Strangely enough polls show that the public in every western state is opposed to privatizing public lands. Here’s hoping their will prevails.

  3. This is a classic Trojan Horse operation: move land control to the states which can’t afford the overhead and are less expensive to lobby (bamboozle). Promise pie-in-the-sky benefit to the local ignoramus contingent.

    When state land operation collapses for wont of funds (fire fighting, pest control, range management), throw up your hands, claiming “the only way to save them is to privatize them”. Enter the “Ultimate Saviors”: Koch Bros, Mars, etc. The US will be prevented from reclaiming control by federal deficit horror-fables.

    An income-expense table setting expenses opposite income from grazing, mineral, petroleum, and timber extraction tells all.

  4. Both of these bills would be a disaster for outdoor recreation. The House Natural Resources Committee is pursuing an agenda that is contrary to the wishes of the majority of Americans. And our Representative Cynthia Lummis is a part of it! Please contact them/her and give them an earful. This website makes it easy to comment: https://secure.everyaction.com/5UtJ2CNlNkut9jhQvmlHMQ2