How the House reconciliation bill targets 4 local plans for oil and gas leasing, mining

By: - September 14, 2021 8:23 am

Pumpjacks on the horizon underneath a partly cloudy beautiful sky. These pieces of equipment are crucial to oil field and fracking operations. (Getty images)

Proposals targeting specific areas for conservation in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and federal waters off Louisiana’s coast made their way into the gigantic budget reconciliation bill that Democrats are moving through Congress.

The portion of the $3.5 trillion package approved on a party-line vote by the House Natural Resources Committee last week includes nationwide measures meant to combat the climate crisis by limiting oil and gas drilling, improving coastal resilience, adding offshore wind and establishing a national Civilian Climate Corps.

But that bill also sought to settle a handful of issues that are more local in scope—several of them aimed at reining in oil and gas development. Below are four of the most significant local matters in the House Natural Resources title of the budget bill.

Oak Flat withdrawal (Arizona)

The bill includes a provision that reverses a land swap from the federal government to private copper mining interests in Oak Flat, an area within Arizona’s Tonto National Forest.

A provision in the 2015 national defense authorization law provided more than 2,000 acres of Oak Flat to Resolution Copper, a joint venture of mining companies Rio Tinto and BHP. The company has not started mining while a federal environmental review has been ongoing.

The San Carlos Apache Tribe and local activists oppose mining in the area, expecting that it would destroy areas of significance to Native American communities and popular recreation areas, including the cliff faces known as Apache Leap.

House Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva, (D-Ariz.), has been working to undo the deal since its adoption.

The bill would also protect about 1 million acres near the Grand Canyon that has been targeted for uranium mining.

Thompson Divide (Colorado)

As part of a manager’s amendment Grijalva sponsored, the bill would bar oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide, a roughly 200,000-acre swath of White River National Forest in west-central Colorado.

No new oil and gas leases could be granted for the area, and the bill provides $500,000 for the federal government to buy existing leases from “willing sellers.”

The Thompson Divide measure was the largest piece of the four-bill public lands package known as the CORE Act that Colorado’s congressional Democrats introduced last year after spending years advocating for the individual pieces. Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse were the combined bill’s primary sponsors.

The funding element of the Thompson Divide makes it eligible to be part of the budget plan, which can only include items with a budgetary impact. The other parts of the CORE Act did not include budgetary language.

Chaco Canyon (New Mexico)

The manager’s amendment also included a section to prohibit new oil and gas development within the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area in northwestern New Mexico.

The provision would affect the areas around Chaco Culture National Historic Park, a National Park Service site that showcases artifacts from a 1,000-year-old center of Puebloan culture, according to NPS.

The Bureau of Land Management has planned to sell parts of the area for oil and gas development, but has postponed those lease sales.

The bill would stop any new leases from being sold, and nullify any inactive leases.

Outer Continental Shelf (Louisiana, Florida and other coastal states)

Coastal states control the offshore areas that extend generally 3 miles from their shoreline. The federal government has jurisdiction over the ocean that is farther offshore than state-controlled areas, with the Interior Department administering oil and gas rights.

The bill would bar the Interior Department from issuing leases for oil and gas production on the Outer Continental Shelf, the offshore beyond a state’s control.

The bill would prohibit new leases for any parts of the federally controlled waters off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, not including Alaska, and for much of the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico.

Areas of the Gulf had already been closed off to new leases, but that was set to expire next year. The Natural Resources bill would extend it indefinitely.

The bill also allows for wind energy development in those areas instead, a move the House Natural Resources Democrats said allows “for more sustainable economic development” in the area.

Bureau of Land Management headquarters (Colorado)

The House Natural Resources Committee also adopted a Rep. Lauren Boebert, (R-Colo.), amendment not to use any money in the bill to move the Bureau of Land Management headquarters from Grand Junction, Colo., where the agency relocated during the administration of President Donald Trump.

The amendment passed by unanimous consent, but it would have little effect even if it is included in the final version of the bill. The Biden administration could still use other funds to make the move.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland opposed the move to Colorado when she was a Democratic House member from New Mexico, but neither she nor the White House has made any specific statements about the headquarters’ future.

Colorado’s bipartisan congressional delegation and Democratic Gov. Jared Polis support keeping the headquarters in Grand Junction.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.