November 18, 2019

Cantwell, Western Democratic Senators Urge Feds to Lift Sudden Suspension of Public Land Advisory Groups

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Press Release from the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources:

WASHINGTON, D.C — Today, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and a coalition of western Democratic senators today urged the Interior Department to lift its sudden suspension of long-standing local committees and advisory boards that provide essential community input on public land management.

Their letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke follows reports that the Department of the Interior (DOI) postponed all meetings for public resource advisory councils and committees (RACs) until September. The letter was led by Sen. Cantwell and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and signed by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

“We are very concerned about this news and would like an answer as to why the RAC meetings were postponed during the BLM’s review of all advisory boards and committees,” the senators wrote. “It is critical that local voices, including RACs, have the opportunity to provide input and take part in the process at all times, not just when those local voices align with the Administration or a large special interest.”

The advisory groups are designed to get diverse community input on often-contentious public land management issues. These advisory groups were included both in Wyden’s original legislation creating Secure Rural Schools support for counties in Oregon and nationwide; and the Interior Department’s own rules dating back to 1995.

Those advisory groups have long helped to balance questions of environmental and economic impacts by informing decisions on issues such as recreation, land use planning, grazing, oil and gas exploration, and wildfire management.

“Balancing these interests is challenging, which is why RACs were created,” the lawmakers wrote. “By working through difficult land management issues and getting local input from the beginning, projects are more likely to succeed. Without this tool, many good land management projects would never be completed.”

A copy of the entire letter is here.

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