During April, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposed new regulations that seek to rewrite the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), saying it would advance the agency’s mission to manage public lands by prioritizing the health and resilience of ecosystems across those lands. To do that, the proposed rule would protect intact landscapes, restore degraded habitats, and make wise management decisions based on “science and data.” The proposed rule would apply land health standards to all BLM-managed public lands and uses, clarify that conservation is a “use” within FLPMA’s multiple-use framework, and revise existing regulations to allow BLM to designate and protect Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, or ACECs.

 The proposed Public Lands Rule poses a threat to all users of public lands, including ranchers, miners, and energy producers. Many politicians representing western states and the businesses that operate on public lands believe the rule is fundamentally flawed and it should be withdrawn. As this edition was going to press, the House Natural Resources Committee held a legislative hearing on H.R. 3397, a bill sponsored by Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) that would require the BLM to withdraw the proposed rule. In his opening remarks, Rep. Curtis noted that most (90%) of the lands in his congressional district are owned and managed by the federal government. Two western governors, Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Mark Gordon (R-WY), testified in favor of the bill at the hearing. The committee approved H.R. 3397, and the bill now moves forward for full House consideration.

At the same time, a group of 11 Republican senators led by Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) wrote and signed a letter to the BLM, drawing attention to additional concerns with the rule, and asking the agency to withdraw it. In the letter, the senators emphasized the concerns of small businesses and highlighted deficiencies in BLM’s process as they developed the rule.

When an agency publishes a proposed rule in the Federal Register, the Regulatory Flexibility Act requires that it seek feedback from groups that would be impacted by the policy change and the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy. The agency is then required to publish an initial regulatory flexibility analysis demonstrating the rule’s impact. The senators said the BLM ignored these requirements and improperly certified the rule would have no significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. By not considering the impact of the proposed rule on all affected small business sectors, they say the BLM’s analysis fails to meet the standards Congress requires of the agency.