Op-Ed: The Mad Rush of Bears Ears Mining Claims That Never Happened
February 19, 2018
When the Outdoor Retailer and Snow Shows debuted last month in Denver, attendees surveyed the latest and greatest in outdoor recreation equipment. But even with all this novelty and innovation, the same old rhetoric about America’s public lands took center stage.
Projected on the side of a downtown building, industry leaders and environmental groups put up a doomsday-style clock – showing the time remaining before oil, gas, and mineral leases would become available in the public lands that President Trump removed from the recently created Bears Ears National Monument.
Accompanied by tall tales of widespread sell-offs to energy companies and Wild West-style dashes for mining claims, corporate and environmental interests painted a picture of an unrestrained drilling bonanza to whip the public into a frenzy over Bears Ears.
After all that bombast, not one entity has shown up to file a permit application. Not a single one since the “doomsday clock” expired on Feb. 2.
The remoteness of the area, combined with the reality that few energy-resource deposits exist, provides extraction companies little to no motivation for developing the area. As one Western environmental group put it, “drilling for oil and gas in Bears Ears over the last 70 years has resulted in little but dry holes.” The only resource with any real potential is uranium, but its price has dropped by more than 80 percent in the last decade, stamping out any interest in opening new mines. The fact is, incentives matter.
The environmentalists' “sky is falling” mentality is understandable and somewhat expected. These groups are passionate about our public lands, and they may feel as though they’ve lost everything with Trump’s decision. In fact, the day after Trump’s announcement, some angrily declared to America that “The President Stole Your Land.” These are the cries and actions of those who feel desperate and disregarded.
While separated by almost a year and a different administration, these same sentiments were shared by the people of San Juan County, who overwhelmingly opposed the Bears Ears designation. They too felt ignored, frustrated, and helpless.
Locals’ history, culture, and future depend on traditional access to public lands and the life-sustaining resources they provide. Simply put, public lands are their whole world. Despite the pleas of local Native Americans, ranchers, farmers, and county residents from all walks of life, former President Barack Obama unilaterally declared the expansive 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument without their input.
It is time they work together and get to the root of the problem.
The Antiquities Act puts far too much power in the hands of one person. With the stroke of a pen, the president can create, enlarge, shrink, or even rescind national monuments, devoid of any counsel from interested stakeholders. This flies in the face of the democratic process and leads to the angst and anxiety each side feels. Each sits on pins and needles, dreading how an incoming president will use unchecked authority to create or alter national monuments.
Instead of this arbitrary system, the Antiquities Act should be transformed into a law by, of, and for the people, where constitutional principles safeguard the environment, protect archaeological sites, create abundant recreational opportunities, and secure the American Dream for rural communities. By placing a check on the executive branch and involving our elected officials, we can ensure that each side of the debate will be heard and that compromise and collaboration will prevail.
We are better than this. We don’t need to relegate public lands debates to doomsday clocks, tall tales, and internet hysteria. These tactics do nothing but drive division and escalate tensions. Both sides of the issue should draw on their shared love of public lands and heed the call of their better angels by working together to produce viable and sensible public land management.
Today, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a legislative hearing on H.R. 520, the “National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act” (Rep. Mark Amodei) (R-NV).
“There are many things that make the United States exceptional… We are blessed with the natural advantage of vast mineral resources, which have only become more valuable in the modern era. Today, nonfuel minerals are used in almost every aspect of our lives, from laptops and smartphones, to advanced weaponry and infrastructure modernization,” Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Chairman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) stated.
Despite an abundant domestic supply of minerals essential to the economy, national security and technological advancement of the United States, the nation’s dependence on foreign minerals has more than doubled from 30 to 64 commodities since 1986. Today, less than half of minerals are sourced domestically.
H.R. 520 streamlines the federal permitting process to boost access to critical minerals in a reliable and timely manner.
“[In Montana] we have not issued a significant mining permit in over 20 years,” Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) stressed. “Montana is the Treasure State… we just can’t get at our treasure.”
Panelists attributed permitting delays and regulatory uncertainty to the nation’s reliance on foreign minerals.
“The U.S. has one of the longest permitting processes in the developed world for mining projects… placing the U.S. at a disadvantage,” General Manager of Hecla Mining Company Doug Stiles stressed.
“Lack of efficiency in the permitting process has severely threatened the development of our domestic supply of critical and strategic minerals important to the United States,” Vice President of Community & Government Affairs for Arizona Mining Greg Lucero argued.
“[H.R. 520] carefully addresses the deficiencies of the outdated U.S. permitting system without changing environmental and other protections,” Stiles stated.
The bill emphasizes coordination between federal and state agencies, minimizing delays and duplicative reviews and creating more predictable timeframes.
A version of H.R. 520 passed the House in the 112th, 113th and 114th Congress.
Click here to view full witness testimony.
Today, the Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations held a hearing to review bureaucratic challenges to securing the border on federal lands. Testimony highlighted the need to increase the U.S. Border Patrol’s access to federal borderlands in order to strengthen national and environmental security.
“Cross border violators take advantage of Border Patrol’s lack of operational flexibility on federal lands. We need to ensure that our environmental laws do not compromise Border Patrol’s ability to detect, identify, track, and respond to cross border violations,” Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-AR) stated.
Despite a 2006 Memorandum of Understanding between federal agencies to facilitate coordination for border security measures, environmental laws and regulations impede Border Patrol’s operations on federal land.
While Border Patrol agents must adhere to environmental laws and regulations, cross border violators disregard environmental laws, and as a result, cause extensive ecological and environmental damage ranging from wildland fires, soil erosion, habitat destruction, and the accumulations of human waste and garbage.
“Access is critical. If the Border Patrol does not have access, we cannot do our job with security. Our environmental laws inhibit that access from taking place,” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) stated.
“This is not a partisan issue—this is an environmental and national security issue,” Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Chairman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) stated.
“The fact is when we have a National Park that allows drug smugglers to come in, to use the park at will, and they destroy the park and leave tons of trash and we can’t allow our enforcement people to go out there and stop them, then that is not enforcing the border,” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) argued.
H.R. 4760, the “Securing America’s Future Act,” sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), includes language to enhance Border Patrol’s access to federal borderlands.
“Today’s hearing reinforces the need for Border Patrol agents to have access to our federal lands,” Rep. Labrador stated. “Section 1118 of my immigration reform bill, the Securing America’s Future Act, addresses this issue and will help make Idaho and America safer.”
Witnesses included Brandon Judd, President of the National Border Patrol Council, Dan Bell, President of ZZ Cattle Corporation and Andrew Arthur, Resident Fellow in Law and Policy for the Center for Immigration Studies.
Click here for additional information on today’s hearing.
Today, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed H.R. 4895, the “Medgar Evers National Monument Act” (Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-MS), establishing the Medgar Evers National Monument, and H.R. 835 (Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-CO), expanding the boundaries of the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.
“Today is a good day as the Committee on Natural Resources passed H.R. 4895, legislation to enact the home of the late Mississippi Civil Rights icon Medgar Evers as a national monument,” Rep. Thompson said. “It has been a great collaborative bipartisan effort from my office and the Committee on Natural Resources to get this bill out of Committee. I look forward to advancing this important bill through the House and getting it signed into law.”
“On the Medgar Evers National Monument, we’re doing the monument the right way, how it actually should be done,” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) stated.
In recent decades, the Antiquities Act has been used by presidents to sidestep public input in the creation of national monuments, resulting in poorly planned and highly controversial designations. H.R. 4895 and H.R. 835, alternatively, were crafted through collaboration, local input and rigorous public analysis.
“On Mr. Lamborn’s bill, we have a piece of legislation right now that has been agreed by all of the Members of the Colorado Delegation, both in the House and the Senate, by the Governor and Legislature. So for me, there is another principal that’s at stake right there,” Bishop added.
The Committee also passed H.R. 4134, the “Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness Redesignation Act” (Rep. Michael Simpson, R-ID).Read More
Today, the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans held an oversight hearing on the state of the nation’s water and power infrastructure.
“Water infrastructure is perhaps the most important, yet overlooked, form of infrastructure in our nation,” District Manager of Kennewick Irrigation District Charles Freeman stated. “The need to invest in our nation’s water infrastructure grows with each passing day.”
Duplicative and cumbersome federal permitting processes have stifled the development of new water and power infrastructure throughout the West and impeded the modernization of existing facilities.
“Environmental reviews and the federal permitting process for infrastructure projects are at the center of the regulatory problem,” Research Fellow in Agriculture Policy for The Heritage Foundation Daren Bakst argued.
In California, the current water system was designed to serve 22 million people, yet the State currently has 39 million residents and is expected to double in population by 2050. Despite growing demand, the “analysis-by-paralysis” nature of federal permitting has kept projects at a standstill.
For example, the proposed Sites Reservoir in California has been under environmental review for more than a decade.
“[We] need to look at creating new processes and tools that can help us and our federal, state and local partners accomplish our goal of successfully building and operating this new large reservoir storage project,” General Manager of Sites Project Authority Jim Watson stressed.
Bakst attributed the nation’s aging water infrastructure to the explosion of paperwork and costly, time-intensive analysis requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other environmental statutes.
“Unnecessary federal red tape does not protect species, eliminate water pollution, or provide cleaner air. It does however make it more difficult for water and electricity to be provided to Americans,” Bakst said.
Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), questioned Baskt if it would be beneficial to establish a process where a lead federal agency is identified for NEPA review.
“That would go a long way in achieving the objective and helping reduce the unnecessary duplication and red tape that exists with NEPA,” Baskt answered.
The Trump administration’s infrastructure plan included a “one agency, one decision” proposal, among other reforms, to boost efficiency in permitting reviews and project approvals.
“It is encouraging that we now have an Administration [that] understands that federal permitting reform must be the first thing we address if we want to get serious about addressing our nation’s infrastructure needs,” Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) stated.
Click here to view full witness testimony.
Washington, D.C. – On Friday, the Department of the Interior transmitted a proposal to Congress to expedite the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) title transfer process. The proposal mirrors language of H.R. 3281, the “Reclamation Title Transfer and Non-Federal Infrastructure Incentivization Act” (Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-CO), which passed the Committee in July 2017, and is included in the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan released today.
“I’m encouraged by the title transfer proposal that was released by the Administration today. Like my bill, H.R. 3281, today’s announcement recognizes that benefits of empowering local water users to take greater control of their operations. We need to get creative in how we address our nation’s aging infrastructure, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Administration to implement these much needed reforms,” Rep. Lamborn stated.
“As long as the federal government holds title to these facilities, water users are stuck under the heavy hand of federal bureaucracy,” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) stated. “I am encouraged by the Administration’s acknowledgement of the need for a better approach to managing western water infrastructure, and we look forward to working with the Department, state and private partners to streamline and improve this process.”
H.R. 3281 streamlines the process of transferring select BOR projects or facilities to local water users in order to incentivize new non-federal investment in water infrastructure and afford more efficient management of water and water-related facilities.
Washington, D.C. – House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement in reaction to the Trump administration’s infrastructure and budget proposals:
“The provisions within President Trump’s infrastructure proposal streamlining federal permitting are what will enable success on the ground and maximum return on investment for communities across the country. The President’s plan also includes bold ideas to invest in rural communities and spur water and power development with a look towards moving certain responsibilities back to the states where they ultimately belong. I look forward to working with the administration and Committees in the House and Senate to forge consensus on a bipartisan legislative product.
“Both the budget and infrastructure plans include new ideas to address infrastructure and maintenance challenges on public lands. The Committee looks forward to reviewing these proposals, along with other concepts within the budget, to expand access and improve management of federal lands and resources.”
Background: During the 115th Congress, the Committee and its five Subcommittees have held 38 oversight and legislative hearings related to infrastructure. Click here for additional information.
On Wednesday, the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans will hold an oversight hearing titled, “The State of the Nation’s Water and Power Infrastructure.”
Today, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced a proposal to revise the 2016 Waste Prevention Rule, also known as the venting and flaring rule. Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement:
“The previous administration scorned domestic energy development and crafted the prior rule to deliberately stifle it. This is a necessary step to promote investment in federal and tribal lands so that economies in the west can grow. We will continue to work in coordination with Secretary Zinke, the Trump administration, states and tribal communities to advance new and better policies.”Read More
Today, the House passed H.R. 2371, the “Western Area Power Administration Transparency Act.” Introduced by Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Chairman Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), the bill establishes a pilot project to increase the transparency of the Western Area Power Administration’s (WAPA) costs, rates, and other financial and operational dealings for utility ratepayers and taxpayers.
“For far too long, WAPA has demonstrated an outright lack of transparency and accountability with regards to costs, rates and expenditures,” Rep. Gosar stated. “I am proud to announce that with the bipartisan passage of my bill, the Western Area Power Transparency Act, this unbridled agency’s days of bureaucratic secrecy are over. From this day forward, WAPA will no longer be allowed to rack up millions of dollars in wasteful expenses with the expectation that the American people will foot the bill.”
“WAPA’s customers deserve to know where their money is being spent,” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) stated. “This bipartisan bill will increase agency transparency, and afford ratepayers with the confidence that they are not absorbing unnecessary costs in their electricity bills.”
Today, the Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a legislative hearing on a series of bipartisan national monument, conservation and recreation bills highlighting the importance of local stakeholder engagement in conservation management decisions.
H.R. 4895, the “Medgar Evers National Monument Act,” establishes the Medgar Evers National Monument in Jackson, Mississippi. Introduced by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and co-sponsored by Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), the bipartisan bill preserves the home of Medgar Evers and honors his legacy as an icon of the Civil Rights movement.
“Designating the home of Medgar Evers [as] a National Monument will be an everlasting tribute to his legacy and journey that countless Americans undertook for equality,” Rep. Thomson stated.
Introduced by Subcommittee on Water, Power & Oceans Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO), H.R. 835 expands the boundaries of the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado by roughly 280 acres. Originally designated by Congress in 1969, the monument size is capped at 6,000 acres.
In May 2016, the National Park Service (NPS) received a proposed donation of 280 acres of private land to expand the monument. Due to the current size of the monument at 5,992 acres, legislative action is needed to expand the boundaries.
“My legislation seeks to only increase the monument size to allow the NPS the ability to accept this critical donation,” Rep. Lamborn stated. “The donated acreage could provide visitors with more recreational opportunities including hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and wildlife watching – all with no supplemental funding or staff needed.”
Commissioner of Teller County, Colorado Norm Steen testified that the expansion of the monument will provide critical access for “wildland fire protection and opportunities for completing hazardous fuel mitigation projects, provide a natural buffer from surrounding developed areas, as well as provide additional wildlife habitat to the Monument.”
“The entire process which brought us to our hearing today was collaborative, transparent, and was done in the interest of what best serves the residents of our County, and the tens of thousands of guests who travel to Teller County each year to visit the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument,” Steen added.
H.R. 857, the bipartisan “California Off-Road Recreation and Conservation Act” (Rep. Paul Cook, R-CA), promotes conservation and enhanced recreation activities in the California Desert Conservation Area by designating six National Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Areas, more than 330,000 acres of new wilderness study and 77 miles of new Wild and Scenic Rivers.
“This bill is the product of years of outreach to local governments, tribes, off-highway vehicle users, conservation groups, Chambers of Commerce, miners, and other stakeholders,” Rep. Cook stressed.
Senior Policy Director for California Wilderness Coalition Ryan Henson described an “unprecedented level of locally-based support” for the bill.
“This groundswell is a direct result of intense outreach efforts over the past decade to ensure communities and stakeholders were informed and consulted about the balance and benefits of this legislation,” Henson added.
Volunteer on the Desert District Advisory Council of the Bureau of Land Management and Editor of DeathValley.com Randy Banis described off-road recreation areas as “essential tools for the management of conservation areas.”
“Providing the public with meaningful and managed opportunities to enjoy off-road recreation on public lands helps to contain high impact activities to where they are most appropriate. [H.R. 857] exemplifies the broad outreach to stakeholders and widespread local collaboration that we all want to see in a federal lands bill,” Banis stated.
Click here to view full witness testimony.