GOP bill would ban federal protections against drilling in national forests

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The Federal Land Freedom Act would give states full control over public lands they don't own.

Tens of millions of acres of federal public lands were already offered for oil and gas development by the Donald Trump administration. But if a group of Republican senators gets its way, the federal government will have no say at all in whether to allow future drilling and mining on many of the lands it owns.

North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer and Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe announced Monday that they were introducing a bill to give states total control over energy development on federal lands located within their borders.

According to their press release, the Federal Land Freedom Act would "give each state the right to develop all of the energy resources on the federal lands located within that state’s borders," except for "tribal lands, national parks, units of the National Wildlife Refuge System, and congressionally designated wilderness areas."

It would also eliminate any judicial review of state leases or permitting and would exempt the drilling from any of the protections provided by the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, National Historic Preservation Act, or Administrative Procedures Act.

Their co-sponsors include GOP Senators Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Ted Cruz (TX), Cynthia Lummis (WY), James Lankford (OK), and Mike Crapo (ID).

The Department of the Interior says that, in addition to national parks and wildlife refuges, the federal government manages almost 250 million acres of public lands. These include 154 national forests, 873 national conservation areas, 12 national recreation areas, and more than 200 wild and scenic rivers.

The Trump administration prioritized allowing as much fossil fuel leasing on public lands as possible, making more than millions of acres available to oil and gas companies.

“The lobbyist-filled Trump administration didn't just carve and cut corners for these oil-funded front groups,” Jayson O’Neill of the Western Values Project told the Guardian last October, “it gleefully took a meat cleaver to our national monuments and land protections."

According to the Wilderness Society, 90% of federal public lands are available for oil and gas drilling — leaving just 10% protected for conservation, recreation, and wilderness.

President Joe Biden ran on a promise to halt "new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters," as part of his climate agenda. A federal judge's June ruling put that moratorium on hold.

But if Cramer and his colleagues pass their bill, the federal government would have no ability at all to determine the climate impact of oil and gas drilling on the land it owns and manages.

“Since he came into office, President Biden has worked to hamstring American energy production, starting with the abundant natural resources on America’s publicly owned lands which were already bogged down by an intrusive federal bureaucracy whose overreaching regulations no longer serve their original purpose,” Cramer argued in his press statement.

He noted enthusiastic support for the proposal from the North Dakota Petroleum Council, which prefers the state's "timely" approval of drilling permits "without the costly and time-consuming burdens of federal regulations and bureaucracy."

Similar legislation has been filed in pass sessions of Congress.

The WildEarth Guardians decried a previous version as a "sneaky scheme to hand authority over to states," arguing, "Because state regulation of extraction is typically minimal, this legislation is a boon for privatizers and the oil and gas industry and a boondoggle for everyone else."

The Outdoor Alliance called it a "transparent attack on public management of public lands."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.