Representatives, senators from Utah lead charge in Congress to repeal Obama-era BLM planning rule

Congress has passed a resolution to repeal “Planning 2.0” — a resource management planning rule for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) developed during the Obama administration. Proponents of the rule, which had not yet been fully implemented, said it allowed additional opportunity for public input in planning efforts and considered more reasonable multiple-use objectives. Those in favor of its repeal argue the opposite, saying Planning 2.0 would have “devalued” local input and threatened to further restrict traditional western industries.

All members of Utah’s congressional delegation lent their support to the repeal, which currently awaits President Donald Trump’s signature. The bill was co-sponsored in the U.S. House of Representatives by Utah Reps. Jason Chaffetz, Rob Bishop, Mia Love and Chris Stewart.

“The rule centralizes the resource management plan process in Washington, D.C., which devalues input from state and local governments as well as their stakeholders who know our lands and have expertise in managing them,” said Jennifer Scott, communications director for Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

But that viewpoint is confounding to many proponents of Planning 2.0, especially as its language mandated earlier and more frequent public involvement in planning efforts as well as ensured opportunities for other federal agencies, local governments, and stakeholders to be involved in decisions on land use.

“The talking point against these rules is that it shifts planning somehow to [Washington] D.C. I really don’t quite understand that,” said Nicholas Lund, senior manager for landscape conservation at the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).

According to BLM documents, Planning 2.0 mandated more frequent public involvement in planning — including the ability to review preliminary versions of planning documents — as part of a larger strategy to respond to “environmental, economic and social changes” in a timely manner.

“We felt that the improvements in Planning 2.0 really benefitted the public in terms of allowing people who actually use the land and have a stake in what goes on there, that they have a voice up front,” Lund said. “ … Planning 2.0 has a reputation that its regulations are an Obama-era, lefty thing, but it really was a reaction to a process that was not working at all.”

Those who advocated for the repeal — a group that primarily includes individuals and groups involved in the energy development and agriculture industries — said they fought against what they saw as another federal hit to traditional western economies.

Randy Parker, CEO of the Utah Farm Bureau Association, was heavily involved in the drafting of Planning 2.0’s repeal. He said that under the BLM’s 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), the BLM gave “certain guarantees” that public lands would “continue to be important to western economies.” But as the agency amends FLPMA, Parker said, the agriculture industry experiences cuts and suspensions of grazing rights, a situation that many opponents believed would continue under Planning 2.0.

“We were concerned when you get to BLM 2.0 they would have even more authority to disregard local interests and could adversely impact grazing, energy and mining, and even recreation,” Parker said.

However, Steve Bloch, legal director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, wondered if the opposition to Planning 2.0 really stemmed from issues of control between federal agencies and local government, as well as their traditional western industries.

“I think what is really behind [the repeal] is certain state and local governments like that they had a stranglehold on these federal agencies,” Bloch said.

He said certain aspects of Planning 2.0 were successful, noting that its mandate to involve the public “early and often” was incorporated during the Moab Master Leasing Plan (MLP) process. That mandate allowed the Moab MLP to receive overwhelming support from a variety of local stakeholders, Bloch said.

“I think the Moab Master Leasing Plan enjoyed broad support in Grand County. That’s an example of how Planning 2.0 works,” Bloch said. “The BLM held multiple meetings including a number of meetings in interim stages, informing the public about preliminary alternatives. The takeaway from Planning 2.0 was that more public involvement at earlier stages should result in better decision making.”

During the Moab MLP process, the BLM reviewed more than 28,000 public comments regarding 785,000 acres of public land managed by the agency’s Moab and Monticello field offices. According to BLM officials, the MLP guides “responsible” mineral development around Moab while also protecting natural resources and recreational opportunities.

Lisa Bryant, spokesperson for the BLM’s Canyon Country District, which includes the Moab and Monticello offices, said the local field offices “see the value” of earlier and more frequent public participation. Although Planning 2.0 would have made that a standard practice, Bryant said local field offices will still implement that process in upcoming planning, including the San Rafael Desert MLP, initiated in spring 2016.

“We attribute the success of the Moab MLP to extensive collaborative efforts with stakeholders and the community, and it just makes good sense to continue offering opportunities for public engagement early and often in our planning,” Bryant said.

But not everyone was happy with the mandates of the Moab MLP process, and some argued that it was another example of federal over-regulation. Opponents have cast Planning 2.0 in a similar light.

According to Kathleen Sgamma, president of Western Energy Alliance, Planning 2.0’s regulations “would [have] negatively impact[ed] jobs and economic growth across the West without delivering better environmental protection.”

Others disagree. Ashley Korenblat of the Moab-based Public Land Solutions, a nonprofit group heavily involved in the Moab MLP process, called Planning 2.0’s repeal a “lose-lose” maneuver, arguing that that its true value was lost on many lawmakers in Congress.

“Planning 2.0 on BLM lands would have made local input a bigger component of the land planning process — the very thing that our elected officials in Utah say they want,” Korenblat said. “Rolling back 2.0 makes local input more difficult and will not create any new jobs, so the whole thing was a lose/lose maneuver by lawmakers who chose to view Planning 2.0 as more regulation, instead of taking the time to understand that 2.0 would have given them more local control.”

Now, Lund says the NPCA is “bracing for what’s next” with regard to public lands policy. He said conservationists expect to see more roadblocks to “thoughtful public participation” from Congress over the next few years.

“We’re going to return to the era where things are dragged out in court forever and people feel their concerns aren’t being heard,” Lund said.

Proponents of the repeal, however, including Parker at the Utah Farm Bureau Association, believe the opposite.

“No longer will these be regulations in place by the BLM,” Parker said. “We’re getting back to where the local people do have rights and opportunities on these lands.”

ByBy Molly Marcello

The Times-Independent