Energy & Environment

Biden administration proposes rule clarifying federal public land conservation powers

A stream in Acadia National Park on Mt. Desert Island, Maine, captures some of the park’s beauty. The park is home to many plants and animals, and the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic coast. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach, File)

A proposed new rule issued Thursday by the Interior Department would clarify the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) authority to restore and protect public lands under a half-century-old law.

In a statement, the department called the rule a necessary step to properly address ecological catastrophes such as wildfires and severe storms, many of them intensified by the effects of climate change.

“As pressure on our public lands continues to grow, the proposed Public Lands Rule provides a path for the BLM to better focus on the health of the landscape, ensuring that our decisions leave our public lands as good or better off than we found them,” BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning said in a statement. “We look forward to feedback from the public on how this proposal will help us best uphold the BLM’s important mission.”

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), which outlines how the bureau manages public lands, directs the Interior Secretary to “give priority to the protection” of those lands, said Aaron Weiss, deputy director at the Center for Western Priorities, but “that is an instruction from congress that has really fallen by the wayside” since the law was passed in 1976.

The BLM’s protective and restorative jurisdiction in management has never before been explicitly outlined in a rulemaking, Weiss said. He explained that a rule that makes that role clear will bring “balance to public lands in a way that has been explicitly missing, and that’s why it’s such a big deal.”

Weiss warned, however, that the rule could easily be undone under a Republican president through the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to repeal an executive branch rule by simple majority. Congress has already passed two CRA resolutions for energy and environment rules proposed by the Biden administration.

“It is very important that the Biden administration get this rule finalized within the next 12 to 13 months on the far end in order to protect it from potentially getting repealed under the [CRA] if there’s a change in administration,” he said. “They have a chance to get it done, but they’re going to have to move fast.”

Tags Biden administration Bureau of Land Management Climate change Interior Department Joe Biden Tracy Stone-Manning wildfires

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