By Tom Kenworthy, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Rob Bishop (R-UT)
The budget agreement unveiled today includes a gift from the Grand Oil Party to its big energy benefactors: it blocks the Interior Department from implementing a policy to protect pristine public lands from development. The rider to the FY2011 continuing resolution prevents Interior from using funds to implement the wild lands policy through the end of this fiscal year, which ends on September 30:
SEC. 1769. For the fiscal year ending September 30, 2011, none of the funds made available by this division or any other Act may be used to implement, administer, or enforce Secretarial Order No. 3310 issued by the Secretary of the Interior on December 22, 2010.
Secretarial Order No. 3310 is the wild lands policy announced late last year by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, which restored a decades-old practice of allowing interim protections for Bureau of Land Management areas prized for recreation, wildlife, and other non-commercial uses. In a controversial 2003 out-of-court settlement with the state of Utah, then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton had revoked BLM’s authority to protect lands with wilderness characteristics pending final congressional action on whether to include them in the nation’s wilderness system. That “no more wilderness” deal opened up millions of acres of western lands to potential development including oil and gas production.
The inclusion of this rider is a victory for western GOP lawmakers who have been pushing to open up more western lands to oil and gas development. These “lords of yesterday” have been led by House Natural Resource Committee’s Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA).
Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) slammed the wild lands rider:
It is extremely disappointing that the 2011 budget deal includes a provision that will harm our nation’s ability to conserve wild lands for future generations. Every presidential administration from Ford to Clinton exercised the authority granted by the Federal land Policy & Management Act of 1976 to inventory and protect lands with wilderness characteristics. Instead of returning to that wise policy, the Interior Department is being forced to go back to the policy of the Bush administration, which prioritized the big oil industry over the hunters, fishermen and recreational enthusiasts who deserve to enjoy the great wild lands that are owned by the American people and should be preserved for future generations.