March 9, 2023
Re: House National Resources Committee Markup on H.R. 1335
Dear Chairman Westerman, Ranking Member Grijalva, and members of the House Natural Resources Committee,
On behalf of more than 40 organizations and our millions of members and supporters, we write to you to express our strenuous opposition to H.R. 1335: Transparency, Accountability, Permitting, and Production of American Resources Act that will be considered in the House Natural Resources full committee markup on Thursday, March 9th.
This legislation proposes sweeping reforms to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Mineral Leasing Act that will prioritize private profit over the public interest and exhibits an astonishing disregard for government accountability and the voices and welfare of communities impacted by federal decisions.
Titles I, IV, V, and VI
These titles, which mirror the Transparency and Production of American Energy Act of 2023 (the “TAP American Energy Act”), go in the wrong direction on onshore and offshore oil and gas leasing. Fossil fuel production on federal public lands and in offshore waters currently accounts for roughly 25% of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and oil production from those lands and waters reached record levels in 2022. Instead of the constant push to develop these areas primarily for fossil fuel extraction, the Department of the Interior can and should make public lands and waters part of the climate solution by managing them for higher uses, like conservation, recreation, and responsible renewable energy development.
The legislation before the committee today would make this impossible. It is, for all intents and purposes, a massive, point-by-point giveaway to the oil and gas industry—an industry that consistently posts record profits while gouging Americans at the pump, jacking up home heating bills, shortchanging communities, and polluting the environment. To start it:
● mandates leasing onshore and offshore, eviscerating long-standing precedent that defers leasing decisions to the President and the Secretary of the Interior;
● rushes oil and gas drilling permits through the environmental review process with zero regard for community input, effects on endangered species, or emissions consequences;
● exempts as many permitting decisions from the federal review process as possible;
● severely restricts the President’s authority to protect specific lands with natural, cultural, or scientific significance;
● and repeals the hard-fought common-sense reforms to the outdated oil and gas leasing program that were enacted in the Inflation Reduction Act to ensure that industry pays a fairer share when reaping—and profiting from —shared, public resources.
If passed, the Transparency, Accountability, Permitting, and Production of American Resources Act would lock in decades’ worth of fossil fuel infrastructure, lock away millions more acres of public lands, split estates, and offshore waters, and handcuff the Biden Administration’s ability to address the climate crisis through thoughtful management of our shared public resources. Like many recent proposals from the present House majority, it attempts to further prop up the Federal fossil fuel program despite rising (and record) production, and industry’s existing access to tens of millions of acres of our shared public spaces and thousands of approved and unused permits to drill on Federal lands.
These provisions are nothing more than a full-scale attack on communities, bedrock environmental laws, and our nation’s climate commitments. We urge all Members of the Committee to oppose these attacks.
Under the guise of “permit streamlining,” Title II of this bill would eviscerate NEPA and fundamentally gut the review of environmental, health, and economic impacts of decisions by over 80 agencies in the federal government. If passed, local community voices would be silenced, the public would be essentially unable to hold the federal government accountable, and polluting industries would be allowed to steer a review process designed to be in the public, not private, interest.
The ways in which this bill would radically undermine informed government decision-making and accountability are too numerous to detail here, but a few merit particular attention:
Dramatically Narrows Application of NEPA and Limit the Scope of Reviews – The bill would radically limit the application of NEPA by redefining the threshold consideration of what is a “major federal action” for the purposes of NEPA. Further, the bill excludes oil and gas gathering lines, federal loans, loan guarantees, and other forms of financial assistance from NEPA, which could allow projects such as coal fired generating facilities and concentrated animal feeding operations to evade any review or public scrutiny. For reviews that do occur, it relieves agencies of any responsibility to undertake any new research necessary for informed decision making and potentially prevents the consideration of upstream and downstream impacts of decisions, thus codifying climate denial into federal decisions.
Essentially Eliminates Judicial Review – In addition to reducing the statute of limitations to a mere 120 days, the bill would bar legal challenges to categorical exclusions as well as many environmental assessments. For the few remaining projects subject to judicial review, injunctive relief would be prohibited, thus ensuring that projects move forward regardless of how egregiously deficient a review or harmful the impacts of a project on a community or the environment.
Allows Inherent Conflicts of Interests In Review – The bill would allow project sponsors to prepare their own environmental reviews, thus eliminating objective analyses about the environmental and related social and economic effects of federal actions and institutionalizing bias in the review process. This potentially undermines the entire purpose of NEPA to have federal agencies make informed, unbiased decisions in the public interest.
Prioritizes Project Sponsors Over the Public Interest – The legislation not only would impose arbitrary timelines on reviews, but would also prohibit an agency from extending the time if needed to do essential scientific work, or to accommodate public comment, unless the project sponsor agrees. Further, the bill would severely narrow what has long been considered the “heart” of the NEPA process, by prioritizing consideration of alternatives that meet the project sponsor goals.
In the wake of the ongoing environmental and public health disaster unfolding in East Palestine, Ohio, it is astonishing that a bill fundamentally undermining the review of environmental, health, and economic impacts of federal decisions is even advanced for consideration. The potential catastrophic consequences of uninformed decision making on communities and the environment is alarmingly clear.
Title III, which is drawn in large part from the Permitting for Mining Needs (PERMIT-MN) Act, would exacerbate deficiencies in the existing mining law, result in an unnecessary increase in mining on federal public lands, and put at risk irreplaceable protected lands, special places, endangered and sensitive wildlife, tribal sacred sites, and culturally significant sites.
Current mining law has allowed for the pollution of America’s environment and waterways, placing additional unjust burdens on communities who have already borne the brunt of our nation’s toxic mining legacy. The GAO estimates America is littered with hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates hardrock mines have polluted 40% of the headwaters of western U.S. watersheds and will cost taxpayers more than $50 billion to clean up. Under current law, taxpayers are potentially liable for billions more in cleanup costs at currently operating mines because the legal requirements for mining companies to remediate lands and waters remain inadequate. This legislation does nothing to address the legacy of abandoned mines or promote remediation of American lands and waters.
Of particular concern, this title upends more than a century of practice by validating mining claims under the Mining Law of 1872 before the claimant has proven a mineral discovery. Currently, mining claims do not become valid just because the claimant says so: mining rights fully vest only after the miner discovers valuable minerals. Yet, under Section 7, a claimant would no longer need to actually prove they discovered valuable minerals. Instead, any person could “claim” mining rights on unwithdrawn public lands merely by grounding a stake, paying a fee, and filing some paperwork. This section would effectively lock out most other uses of public lands, prioritizing mining instead.
Finally, this title continues the current majority’s constant attempts to unnecessarily prop up the domestic uranium industry. Under Section 8, the U.S. Geological Survey is once again directed to reevaluate its list of critical minerals. However, under this bill, “fuel minerals” are now defined to specifically exclude uranium, making it an automatic candidate for consideration despite its dominant use as a fuel mineral.
We urge all Members of the Committee to oppose this bill and instead prioritize efforts that would balance public health, community input, and the protection of watersheds, wildlife habitat, and cultural and historic resources on America’s public lands and wildlife.
Rather than advancing meaningful permitting reform, the proposed legislation would fundamentally undermine the review of environmental, health, and economic impacts of federal decisions. This bill is an extreme attack on government accountability, meaningful public input, and review under the National Environmental Policy Act. We urge all Members of the Committee to vote NO on H.R. 1335.
Alaska Clean Water Advocacy
Alaska Mining Impacts Network
Alaska Wilderness League
Arizona Trail Association
Californians for Western Wilderness
Center for Biological Diversity
Climate Hawks Vote
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
Conservation Lands Foundation
Defenders of Wildlife
Environmental Law & Policy Center
Environmental Working Group
Friends of the Earth
Friends of the Sonoran Desert
Grand Canyon Trust
Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Hispanic Access Foundation
John Muir Project
League of Conservation Voters
Los Padres ForestWatch
Natural Resources Defense Council
Nevada Wildlife Federation
Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness
Oregon Natural Desert Association
Partnership for Policy Integrity
Save The Scenic Santa Ritas
Soda Mountain Wilderness Council
Southern Environmental Law Center
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
Voices for Progress
Western Organization of Resource Councils
Western Watersheds Project
The Wilderness Society