The Senate voted Tuesday to block a rule that would have given Westerners more say in the use of public lands near their communities.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM)’s “Planning 2.0” rule — meant to update a decades-old process that had been criticized for leaving out stakeholders during the early stages of planning — is no more.
“Led by key Western senators, including Cory Gardner and Dean Heller, Congress passed a bill that guts long-overdue reforms to how land managers balance development and protections on public lands,” said Center for Western Priorities deputy director Greg Zimmerman. “Public lands across the West will now be guided by antiquated planning rules that frequently shut out public participation.”
The Planning 2.0 rule was written with public input in mind, but Congress’s action will instead requiring BLM to continue to rely on an outdated system, subject to long, expensive legal battles. And because Congress rolled back this rule by using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), the agency won’t be able to update its planning process through any similar rulemaking in the future.
Thousands of people had weighed in during the Department of the Interior’s public comment period.
The Senate vote came a month after the House passed its version of the CRA, and the repeal will now go to President Trump’s desk.
The old planning process — which will again be the standard — had been criticized for failing to engage stakeholders at the outset.
“The Planning 2.0 Rule [would have made] the land-use planning process more efficient by engaging local stakeholders — from local and tribal governments to outdoor recreation businesses to energy developers — earlier in the process to avoid disputes and revisions later that cost time and taxpayer money,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.
Whether the outdoor recreation industry is adequately considered during BLM’s planning process also remains a question.
Earlier this week, 30 Western chambers of commerce and local governments urged the Trump administration and Congress to implement and fund an economic study assessing the scale of the outdoor economy. Data from such a study would enable government agencies to numerically factor in the importance of recreation when making land-use decisions. The study was authorized under the Outdoor REC Act, signed into law in November 2016.
One industry stakeholder, outdoor outfitter Patagonia, on Tuesday highlighted the importance of public lands to its mission, launching a collection of interactive 360-degree films about the cultural and recreational significance of the Bears Ears National Monument, recently designated in Southeastern Utah.
There has been concern over suggestions that Congress will reduce or dedesignate Bear Ears.
In an open letter to Utah Governor Gary Herbert earlier this year, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard pointed out that “[t]he outdoor industry creates three times the amount of jobs than the fossil fuels industry.” He said Utah politicians “don’t seem to get that the outdoor industry — and their own state economy — depend on access to public lands for recreation.”