BLM reopens public input on rule-making

Source:  Helena Independent Record, Tuesday, July 4, 2017       By:  Rob Chaney

MISSOULA – After interrupting its “Planning 2.0” process just as it was getting started, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has announced a new round of public ideas to shape its decision-making system.

“Our goal is to identify inefficiencies and redundancies that should be eliminated from our land use planning and NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) processes, while ensuring that we fulfill our legal and resource stewardship responsibilities,” acting BLM Director Michael Nedd wrote in a press release on Monday.

“By doing this, we will be able to dedicate more time and resources to completing the important on-the-ground work on our public lands.”

The 21-day comment period ends July 24.  Nedd specifically asked for ideas on “how we can make the BLM’s planning procedures and environmental reviews timelier and less costly, as well as responsive to local needs.”

In Montana, the BLM oversees a smaller slice of the federal land pie than the U.S. Forest Service.  Nationally, the slices reverse with BLM controlling 248 million acres and the Forest Service 193 million,

BLM Missoula Field Manager Joe Ashor said the agency was looking for ways to improve its three-decade-old planning process.  BLM has been using the rule first drafted in 1986 to review land-use proposals and environmental assessments.

“We’re open to any and all directives from the current administration for how they might tweak the process,” Ashor said.  “It’s pretty wide open in what’s requested as to how the planning process can be improved upon.  There’s clearly a desire to make sure local governments and the public have a chance to be involved in much greater degree than they have in the past.  That was part of the 2.0 rule.”

Congress rescinded the rule in March using the Congressional Review Act, which allows reversals of presidential actions within 60 days of publication.  The Obama Administration put forward the Planning 2.0 rules after a two-year public process with the stated goal of allowing more public input into federal land use decision-making.  The rule drew criticism from oil and gas developers, who argued it would discourage multiple-use access.

“This rule would have given even more power to the bureaucracy in Washington when what we need is the exact opposite,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rod Bishop (R-Utah) said at the time.  “Reversing this rule is just one of many actions we will take to shift land management decisions back to the people who live in these areas and away from unelected, and in many cases, unaccountable, bureaucrats.”

But the Congressional Review Act also requires that a revoked action can’t be replaced by something similar.  Western Values Project director Chris Saeger called the new process a way for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to “provide cover for more favors to the special interests that have bankrolled his and President Trunp’s political careers.”

“It’s no wonder Interior is dumping this news on a day when so many Americans are enjoying the public campgrounds Secretary Zinke wants to privatize,” Saeger wrote in an email on Monday.  “These leading questions reveal this exercise to be as much of a shame as the supposed review of national monuments.”

Anyone wishing to submit comments on the new BLM planning process can send them to