Rep. Cynthia Lummis supported three bills that successfully passed through the House Natural Resources Committee last week, each of which she said will help the Cowboy State.
Lummis is co-sponsoring two of the bills, which address hydraulic fracturing and national forests, and is the sole sponsor of one bill — for the historical Ranch A in the Wyoming portion of the Black Hills National Forest.
“The House Natural Resources Committee has once again proven itself to be one of the most productive and solution-oriented committees in an otherwise dysfunctional Congress,” Lummis said in a prepared statement.
H.R. 2728, the Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act, now heads to the House floor.
The bill would prohibit the Bureau of Land Management from regulating hydraulic fracturing in states that already regulate it, such as Wyoming, Lummis said.
The BLM opposes the bill, according to testimony submitted to the committee. In May, the agency released a revised proposed rule on fracking on federal lands and is accepting public comment on the proposal through Aug. 23.
There are 34 states that each have an oil and gas mineral estate, 15 have no fracking regulations, and “the requirements vary considerably across the 19 states that do have regulations of some kind,” the testimony said.
Frances Hunt of the Sierra Club Beyond Natural Gas Campaign said her group and other groups wrote a letter to the committee’s chairman and ranking member in opposition to it. She said the bill is too vague and that federal lands belong to all Americans.
“We believe they deserve strong consistent federal management,” she said. “These states are very inconsistent, and we think inadequate, but certainly inconsistent in their management of oil and gas resources and fracking.”
Gov. Matt Mead, though, believes the federal government should defer to states with established fracking regulations, the governor’s spokesman, Renny MacKay, said. Wyoming was the first state to regulate fracking, through the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in 2010, MacKay said.
“Wyoming hydraulic fracturing rules are trailblazing,” MacKay said. “And several years ago we took initiative to develop a regulatory path for the emerging issue of hydraulic fracturing, and then years later the federal government comes up with its own. And the proposed federal rule not only has the effect of creating unnecessary and duplicative rules, but it also stifles states’ desire and ability to develop consensus around innovative, state-led regulatory solutions.”
H.R. 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, heads to the House Agriculture Committee, where it has to either be approved or discharged to the House floor, said Christine D’Amico, a spokeswoman for Lummis.
The bill would continue to allow timber projection projects in areas where state and national forests meet. The areas are proposed by state governors, and state foresters’ authority is expanded by giving them “Good Neighbor Authority.” Portions of timber sales would go to rural counties, D’Amico said.
The bill would also temporarily extend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000, which provided income to public schools, according to the bill.
Economies in rural communities have declined because less timber is cut and sold because of lawsuits and regulations. Forests have become unhealthy, susceptible to wildfires and infestation from bugs such as the mountain pine beetle, Lummis said.
The Good Neighbor Authority policy had previously been criticized by the Sierra Club, but the spokesman for the organization’s wing that is fighting it did not return messages to the Star-Tribune.
“We are not talking about clear-cutting forests,” D’Amico said. “We are talking about forest management and harvesting what the Forest Service has already identified as sustained yield in our forests.”
Gov. Mead is reviewing the bill and will monitor its progress in Congress, said MacKay,
“Gov. Mead also supports extending the Secure Rural Schools funding, which is part of this legislation,” MacKay said in an email. “The extension is needed to ensure communities and schools continue to receive a portion of the revenue generated from National Forests in their backyards.”
H.R. 1684, the Ranch A Consolidation and Management Improvement Act, is headed to the House floor.
The federal government would give 10 acres of Black Hills National Forest property to the state for the historical Ranch A Educational Center. The land would connect parts of the ranch that are currently separate, said John Shoffstall, president of the Ranch A Restoration Foundation, which maintains the ranch as an educational facility.
Currently the Babcock House sits about a mile from the main ranch property, which has three buildings. The bill would unify the ranch, Shoffstall said.
Ranch A is about five miles south of Beulah on Sand Creek Road, he said.