Energy & Environment

Interior ‘strongly opposes’ bill to disarm federal land law enforcement

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The Interior Department is blasting a Republican bill that would abolish armed law enforcement bodies in two federal land management agencies.

{mosads}Interior argues the measure would significantly undermine the ability of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service to protect federal land and says it improperly assumes local police agencies would be willing and able to enforce federal law on the government’s land.

The BLM response came in a Monday letter addressed to Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, who asked for the department’s opinion of the proposal. 

Interior also charged that the bill does not account for the different priorities of federal and state officers or the specialized training land management officers receive. And it says the move would make the federal government liable for all actions by local policy on federal land.

“The Department strongly opposes this bill, which would terminate these law enforcement functions and significantly hinder effective management of our public lands,” wrote Harry Humbert, Interior’s deputy assistant secretary for public safety.

Humbert’s letter represents the view of the BLM; the Forest Service is part of the Department of Agriculture.

GOP Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop, along with the rest of Utah’s congressional delegation, introduced the bill in March in an attempt to rein in what they saw as abuses of power and heavy-handedness by federal officers. 

Chaffetz chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, while Bishop chairs the House Natural Resources Committee.

“Federal agencies do not enjoy the same level of trust and respect as local law enforcement that are deeply rooted in local communities,” the lawmakers wrote in introducing the bill.

“This legislation will help deescalate conflicts between law enforcement and local residents while improving transparency and accountability,” they said. “The BLM and U.S. Forest Service will be able to focus on their core missions without the distraction of police functions. This is a win all around.”

Grijalva and Democrats label the bill “extremist” and link it to the movements behind Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, the occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge earlier this year and other instances of violence and threats toward federal land officials.

“The bill’s supporters claim it’s necessary to relieve tension and resolve conflicts over US public lands management in the west,” Grijalva wrote last week in the Guardian. “This is absolutely the wrong way to address a very real problem. Instead of relieving tension, the bill legitimizes anti-government conspiracy theories, dumps fuel on a smoldering fire and makes law enforcement more difficult.”

Tags Bureau of Land Management federal land House Natural Resources Committee Interior Department Jason Chaffetz Rob Bishop
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