This week, the Senate is considering a broad-based energy bill, S. 2012, the Energy Policy Modernization Act, and it has some important implications for outdoor recreation and public lands.
First, and most excitingly, the bill contains an agreement between Sens. Cantwell (D-WA) and Murkowski (R-AK) to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the program that expired earlier this fall and was given a short-term reauthorization in December. The Cantwell-Murkowski agreement would make reauthorization permanent, and would create a new fund to help address the maintenance backlog on public lands.
Another exciting development is an amendment that includes the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act (PLREDA), a piece of legislation that would help ensure thoughtful and appropriately sited renewable energy development on public lands, as well as direct some of the royalties to conservation and recreation projects.
Of course, there are some more troubling aspects of the legislation, as well, foremost being some dubious language to promote hydropower and reduce the safeguards needed to protect ecological and recreational values. Dams will always have a profound impact on the sections of rivers where they are built, and it should go without saying that the decision to build a new dam should not be made lightly—if at all. While we are concerned by the bill’s hydro provisions, they have been significantly improved compared to earlier versions of this bill, and we are grateful to see Senators taking the impact of dams seriously.
Finally, there are a number of controversial amendments that will be considered for addition to the energy bill. Most notable from the perspective of our community are two amendments from Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), which would essentially end the President’s authority to protect public lands by designating National Monuments under the Antiquities Act. Over the last 100 years, nearly every president from each political party has used the Antiquities Act to protect treasured places on America’s public lands, including places that went on to become crown jewels in the National Parks system like the Grand Canyon and the Grand Tetons. Any steps to undermine the Antiquites Act would be deeply harmful for public lands and outdoor recreation. Fortunately, it seems that the Senate is most interested in passing legislation that President Obama will sign into law, so we’re hopeful they will avoid controversial, anti-public lands policy provisions.
See our comment letter here.