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Repeal of BLM's 'Planning 2.0' Elicits Praise From Industry Groups

Groups representing the oil and gas industry said they backed the vote by Congress to repeal a rule by the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that called for revisions to its resource management planning process.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed HJ Res. 44, which calls for Congressional disapproval of the BLM's rule, also known as Planning Rule 2.0. The bill now heads to President Trump's desk for his signature.

The oil and gas industry and its allies had opposed the rule, implemented by the Obama administration, on the grounds that it would make planning more difficult and the process more time-consuming.

In a statement Tuesday, the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) said it welcomed Congressional repeal of the rule, and predicted that it would provide relief to independent oil and gas producers and small businesses.

"The BLM's Planning 2.0 rule presents a number of challenges that will discourage multiple use interests and sway against oil and gas resources on public lands," said IPAA’s Dan Naatz, senior vice president for government relations and political affairs. "The impacts of this rule will impose a significant and harmful burden on individual operators and the industry as a whole."

According to Naatz, the Obama administration's concept of a mitigation standard of a net benefit, or net conservation gain, amounted to policymaking through executive orders, secretarial directives and other memorandums, rather than being based upon laws and rules that went through their respective processes.

"This new standard is inconsistent with a balanced, multiple-use concept of federal lands and conflicts with the realities of current oil and natural gas development which, due to technological advances in horizontal drilling, has a vastly reduced footprint -- in some cases up to 70% or more -- on federal lands," Naatz said. "Further, the Planning 2.0 rule provides no certainty for land users or businesses and instead creates ambiguity in the planning process.

"The final rule would allow for all planning documents to be changed at any moment, which does not allow for a set understanding of expectations and long-term planning. Oil and natural gas businesses are not able to adjust plans on a whim and depend on certainty throughout the planning process. This added uncertainty will likely result in reduced development of federal minerals and, therefore, will lead to a loss of royalty and tax revenue for federal, state, and local governments."

The Western Energy Alliance (WEA) on Tuesday also applauded the bill's passage. WEA President Kathleen Sgamma commended Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who introduced HJ Res. 44 in late January, for recognizing "that the rule, rushed through in the waning days of the Obama administration, would negatively impact jobs and economic growth across the West without delivering better environmental protection.

"Planning 2.0 downplayed the voice of communities that derive their livelihoods from multiple-use public lands by elevating preservation-only special interests over the broad public interest. Someone from New York cavalierly sending in a Sierra Club-generated email opposing a rancher's grazing permit or a local oilfield worker's project simply is not invested as deeply as those living in western communities."

Sgamma said stakeholders -- including the governors of western states, tribal councils, county commissioners and ranchers -- "should be afforded a higher level of deference than outside special interests. While all Americans have a say in how public lands are managed, those closest to the land are the ones who intimately understand the land and how to effectively balance protection with responsible economic development."

Furthermore, Sgamma said, the rule was characterized as "landscape-level planning" by the Obama administration.

"But it really was an attempt to treat the West as a blank slate that can simply be written on anew, ignoring realities on the ground, state borders, congressional mandates, rural economies, and individual livelihoods," Sgamma said. "Westerners welcome the proper rebalancing of federal land management."

HJ Res. 44 passed the House on a 234-186 vote on Feb. 7.

Last year, BLM conceded that while Planning 2.0 would not directly affect the decisions it makes, the rule could still impact the oil and gas industry. An economist with BLM estimated that the annual cost to industry would be less than $100 million and not adversely affect "the economy, a sector of the economy, productivity, competition, jobs, the environment, public health or safety, or state, local or tribal governments or communities."

Under Planning 2.0, BLM proposed establishing new opportunities for early public involvement in the planning process, and giving the public opportunities to submit data and review preliminary versions of key documents used in the bureau's planning process. It has also proposed requiring a planning assessment before developing a land use plan. Specifically, the rule would have amended the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.

Planning 2.0 is one of 13 regulations enacted during the Obama administration that Republicans in Congress have targeted for repeal using the Congressional Review Act.

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