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House GOP targets Obama-era rule on public lands

By on February 7, 2017

President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Dec. 16, 2016. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

FILE – President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Dec. 16, 2016. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

WASHINGTON — House Republicans are targeting Obama-era rules that require federal land managers to consider climate change and other long-term effects of proposed development on public lands.

Lawmakers began debate Tuesday on a measure repealing a regulation imposed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, which oversees more than 245 million acres of public lands, mostly in the West. The rule also requires the use of the best available science in land-management decisions.

Republicans say the rule, finalized in December, shifts decision-making authority away from state and local officials to the federal government.

Debate on the measure comes after the House approved three other resolutions last week that target environmental rules approved in the final months of President Barack Obama’s term. Republicans say the measures are needed to reverse years of what they see as excessive government regulation during Obama’s presidency.

Lawmakers backed measures scuttling regulations that prevented coal mines from dumping debris into nearby streams; clamped down on oil companies that burn off natural gas during drilling operations; and forced energy companies to disclose payments to foreign governments relating to mining and drilling.

GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne of Alabama called the land-management rule “government overreach at its worst” and said land-use planning has historically been and should remain a function of local government.

“The federal government should not be telling states and local government what works best for them,” Byrne said.

The Obama administration said the planning rule would help federal land managers address issues such as increased wildfires and an influx of invasive species.

The rule also requires that management plans be updated more frequently and adhere to a 2013 climate change strategy ordered by former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Under the previous rule, the land-management bureau took an average of eight years to finish a land use plan.

“Too often, by the time we’ve completed a plan, community priorities have evolved and conditions on the ground have changed as well,” then-BLM Director Neil Kornze said in December when the final rule was announced.

The new rule also increases public input and encourages collaboration with tribal, state and local governments, Kornze said.

The House was also expected to take up a separate Obama-era rule aimed at helping states identify failing schools and come up with plans to improve them. The Education Department rule provides a framework for states to develop their own accountability plans under a bipartisan education law signed by Obama in 2015.

Under the law, states may design accountability systems that consider measures beyond test scores and high school graduation rates. The states have flexibility in deciding how much weight to give to each — as well as other measures including school climate, advanced coursework and chronic absenteeism.

The rule requires that the plans measure the performance of all students, including “sub-groups of students” such as racial minorities, children from low-income families and special education students.

The Senate confirmed school choice advocate Betsy DeVos as education secretary Tuesday after Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie.

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