December 1, 2023
The Honorable Chuck Schumer
The Honorable Mitch McConnell
The Honorable Patty Murray
The Honorable Susan Collins
Dear Majority Leader Schumer, Minority Leader McConnell, Chair Murray, and Ranking Member Collins:
On behalf of the forty-two undersigned national and western-based organizations and our members across the country, we write in strong opposition to the House FY24 Interior and Environment appropriations bill (H.R. 4821). In addition to the drastic funding cuts that will harm agencies’ ability to deliver critical services, we want to call special attention to a set of policy riders included in the legislation. These riders will reverse the progress currently being made by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to update its antiquated oil and gas leasing program to protect taxpayers and public lands, they will harm ecological and cultural sites on BLM lands, and they undermine the public process and ignore significant input from people across the West.
These problematic provisions include:
- Section 504 (“Prohibition on Finalization of Proposed Rule”). The BLM’s proposed Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Rule implements the long-overdue reforms to the onshore oil & gas leasing program that were enacted to better protect taxpayers and the environment. The draft rule increases the royalty rate for producing oil and gas on federal public lands, realigns rents and fees to account for decades of inflation, and reduces speculation in the federal oil & gas leasing program. It also addresses dire shortcomings in the oil and gas bonding system identified by the Government Accountability Office and other nonpartisan watchdogs over many years, and ensures taxpayers are not left paying to clean up drilling sites. Over 260,000 Americans submitted public comments for the record — over 99 percent of which were supportive of the rule – yet this policy rider would circumvent and undermine the administrative process, ignore significant public input across the West, and halt a long overdue update to the federal onshore oil and gas leasing program that protects taxpayers, public lands and the wildlife and communities that rely on them.
- Section 543 (“Mineral Leasing Act Modernization”). This provision would block implementation of the critical fiscal reforms to the oil and gas leasing system that were enacted by Congress and are being implemented by BLM’s proposed Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Rule. These reforms have long been flagged as critical by government watchdogs and enjoy significant support across the West and bipartisan support in Congress. The reforms better harmonize the federal oil and gas system with the fees, rents, and royalties charged by states and ensure that publicly-owned resources are not being sold off at bargain basement prices. By blocking these long-overdue updates to the leasing program, this rider would maintain a broken status quo that favors special interest profits, instead of allowing the program to be modernized and administered in the public interest.
- Section 513. This vague provision would create an impossible-to-validate limitation on the Department of the Interior’s authority and discretion to issue or not issue onshore and offshore oil and gas leases. It represents an oil and gas industry giveaway with no obvious public benefit.
- Section 473. This provision would take the BLM’s oil and gas leasing program in the wrong direction by essentially removing agency discretion to balance the multiple uses of public lands. Among other concerns, the provision would mandate quarterly lease sales on all parcels nominated by industry. The overwhelming majority of lands managed by BLM are already open to oil and gas leasing, despite the many other uses and benefits of those lands. This provision’s mandates would undo the much-needed reforms included in the proposed Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Rule, and it will ensure that oil and gas industry demands will supersede cultural, fish and wildlife, and recreational values and resources.
- Section 503 (“Prohibition on Finalization of Certain Documents”). This section of H.R. 4821 would stop the BLM’s public process to revise their Resource Management Plans for the Colorado River Valley and Grand Junction field offices. The draft plan would ensure that BLM is able to manage resources into the future, it would protect drinking water resources and sensitive fish and wildlife habitat, and it would conserve Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. In addition to halting these on-the-ground management improvements, this appropriations rider would shut down the agency planning process and prevent the BLM from considering public comments offered during the public comment period that closed on November 1, 2023.
- Section 497. This provision would block the BLM from finishing an update to the 25+ year-old Resource Management Plan for the Rock Springs Field Office in Wyoming. The draft RMP currently open for public comment (closes Jan. 17, 2024) would conserve essential habitat for mule deer and pronghorn antelope, important cultural sites, and popular recreational hot spots while allowing oil & gas production to continue in the region. BLM’s draft plan would maintain or enhance access for hunters, ranchers, and other public lands users, including in the Northern Red Desert and Greater Little Mountain areas. This rider would short-circuit the agency planning process and deny the public an opportunity to shape land management decisions.
For these reasons and many others, we urge you to reject these riders included in the House FY24 Interior and Environment appropriations bill. Thank you for your consideration of our concerns.
Citizens Caring for the Future
Citizens for Clean Air, Grand Junction CO
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
Colorado Fiscal Institute
Colorado Wildlands Project
Colorado Wildlife Federation
Conservation Lands Foundation
Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship
Empowerment Congress of Doña Ana County
Endangered Species Coalition
Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Information Network for Responsible Mining
League of Conservation Voters
Montana Wildlife Federation
National Wildlife Federation
Natural Resources Defense Council
Nevada Conservation League
Nevada Wildlife Federation
New Mexico & El Paso Region Interfaith Power and Light
New Mexico Voices for Children
New Mexico Wild
New Mexico Wildlife Federation
Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project
Public Land Solutions
Rocky Mountain Wild
The Wilderness Society
West Virginia Rivers Coalition
Western Colorado Alliance
Western Organization of Resource Councils
Western Slope Conservation Center
Wyoming Outdoor Council
Wyoming Wilderness Association
The Honorable Jeff Merkley
Chair, Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies
The Honorable Lisa Murkowski
Ranking Member, Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee