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Coalition Challenges BLM’s Proposed Planning Rules

by | May 25, 2016 | Coordination | 0 comments

A coalition of Local Governments and Associations filed comments today, challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) proposed revisions to their planning rules (81 Fed. Reg. 9674 (Feb. 25, 2016).  The planning rules guide the development of the agency’s Resource Management Plans that govern the multiple uses and restrictions for the 240 million acres in the West under the agency’s control.

The newly proposed rules severely undermine the authority of local governments to coordinate with the BLM in their planning, inventory and management activities as required by the Federal Land Management and Policy Act (FLPMA).  The statue requires coordination with local governments and for the agency to reach consistency with local land use plans and policies; however, the proposed rules diminish the role of local governments to the same level of input as the general public.

The BLM announced on February 25, 2016, that they were revising their rules and offered the public and local governments an opportunity to “comment.”  ASL organized a coalition of Local Governments and Associations (36 participants in 9 states) to develop a robust set of comments for the purpose of noticing the BLM of the statutory violations.  The Coalition hired Norman D. James of Fennemore Craig in Phoenix, Arizona to develop the comments.

Additionally, nine of the local governments participating in the Coalition sent a letter to BLM Director Neil Kornze requesting that he “coordinates” the proposed rules with the entities as required under section 202(c)(9) of FLPMA.  To date, that request has been rejected, and the agency has only offered a telephone conference call or Webinar to hear concerns as opposed to actual coordination of the conflicts the proposed rules create for the local governments.  (Click to read the BLM’s response and the Coordinating Local Government’s latest letter)

The Coalition raised several key arguments in the comments.

  1. The Proposed Rules would rewrite FLPMA Section 202(c)(9), codified at 43 U.S.C. § 1712(c)(9), (coordination and consistency requirements) and undermine the role of States and local governments in public land use inventory, planning and management.
  2. The BLM is proceeding to overhaul its rules governing land management planning in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. § 4332, by refusing to prepare an environmental impact statement or even an environmental assessment.
  3. The Proposed Rules are connected with, and are intended to support implementation of, the Interior Department’s broader climate change and mitigation program. In order to comply with NEPA, these interrelated actions, including the Proposed Rules, must be evaluated together, as part of a department-wide program, rather than being segmented to avoid NEPA.
  4. The BLM has proposed to eliminate several important and required components of land use plans and recast them as “implementation strategies” that will function as rules governing land uses and land management decisions without compliance with FLPMA, NEPA, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
  5. The BLM’s proposed changes to the planning assessment process represent a significant shift away from State and local concerns and traditional multiple use principles, and instead would emphasize national policies of questionable validity and land preservation.
  6. The BLM also is proposing to allow land planning and management decisions to be based on questionable scientific information in violation of the Information Quality Act and the BLM’s Information Quality Guidelines.
  7. The BLM’s proposed narrowing of the requirements for protesting a land use plan or plan amendment will limit the ability of the public to challenge the BLM on many issues involved in the development of land use plans.

The development of the comments were guided by a steering committee representing Counties, Special Districts and Associations in several western states, including: Kane County, Utah; Garfield County, Colorado; Chaves County, New Mexico; Modoc County, California; Dona Ana Soil and Water Conservation District, New Mexico; Winkelman Natural Resource Conservation District, Arizona; Six Counties Association, Utah; and, American Stewards of Liberty, Texas.

The Coordinating Local Governments have requested that the agency delay implementation of the rules until proper coordination can be fulfilled.

Click here for background on BLM’s Proposed Planning Rules.

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