Montana attorney general threatens ‘multistate lawsuit’ over Biden public lands rule
A group of Western states is prepared to sue the Biden administration if it advances the current version of its proposed public lands rule, arguing that the effort, which seeks to elevate conservation leasing, is a violation of federal law and poses significant harm to energy, mining, and agricultural interests in the region.
The Bureau of Land Management’s proposed Public Lands Rule seeks to allow the agency to lease federal lands for conservation purposes under its existing “multiple-use” framework, essentially giving groups opposed to new fossil fuel development the same right to bid on federal leases as oil companies, miners, and cattle ranchers.
The rule has generated widespread opposition, with more than 215,300 industry groups and others weighing in during the Bureau of Land Management’s mandatory public comment period, which ended Wednesday.
And now, states are prepared to face off with the agency in court.
In an exclusive interview with the Washington Examiner, Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen described the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed rule as a “flagrant violation” of federal law.
In his view, the Bureau of Land Management’s proposal is a direct violation of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, a 1976 law created by Congress to govern federal land use that some critics have argued could be used to stifle new resource development, such as oil drilling and mining activity.
In writing the 1976 law, Congress specified that the Bureau of Land Management should make lands available for mining operations, motorized recreation, natural gas leases, guide concessions, hunting and fishing, scientific study, and more. And by allowing conservation to be considered on an equal playing field, opponents contend businesses, industries, and people whose livelihood depends on public lands would suffer.
Others have taken aim at the Biden administration’s avenue for the change, stressing that it is Congress, not a federal agency, that must amend and approve any updates to the legislation.
“If the Biden administration and [Bureau of Land Management Director] Tracy Stone-Manning want to change federal law, to put conservation on the same footing as other federal land uses, then they should go to Congress to try to do that,” Knudsen said.
“Federal courts have been very clear on this,” Knudsen added. “You don’t get to issue sweeping rule changes like this that are tantamount to a major law change.”