When the Congressional Review Act (CRA) was enacted in 1996, it allowed Congress to review federal regulations and overrule those that they didn’t like through resolution rather than having to pass a bill. Because resolutions cannot be filibustered and only a simple majority is required for them to pass, this type of reversal is nearly impossible to defeat given the current demographic of Congress.
In the past two weeks we have seen an unprecedented attack on environmental regulations and policies from both the House and the Senate, several of which make use of the CRA. From the narrow escape on H.R. 621 (withdrawn due to intense public outrage), to the vote on Friday by the House of Representatives choosing to repeal reductions in air pollution from methane emissions on BLM lands, the current administration is seeking to rollback valuable protections on our public lands. It’s hard to decide which attack is the most surprising, given the enormity and scale of each proposal. Perhaps the most egregious assault comes in the form of H.J. Res. 46 put forward by Congressman Paul Gosar, from Arizona.
H.J. Res. 46 would reject recent updates to the National Park Service (NPS) “9B” rules. For over 40 national parks, the federal government (and by extension, the public) owns the surface of the land, but not the minerals locked underground. This is known as “split-estate.” The BLM offers a decent explanation of how "split-estate" works. According to the National Park Conservation Association, under H.J. Res 46, “drilling could occur in national parks with little more than bare-minimum state regulations…[and NPS would] have essentially no authority over oil and gas development proposed inside national parks.” The 9B rules require drilling operators to compensate the federal government for site reclamation in the event of spills or closure, and they give enforcement authority to park law enforcement if strict planning and safety regulations are not followed. These are common sense demands given that the mandate of the National Park Service requires preservation of resources unimpaired. Drilling for oil and gas, not to mention the construction of access roads necessary for the extraction, does not allow for preservation unimpaired.
Gosar is clearly no friend of the environment and seeks to upend all that the NPS stands for. The League of Conservation Voters gave him an astoundingly dismal score of just 3 percent last year, a stark contrast to the 41 percent average for the rest of the House of Representatives. Gosar has also just been selected to chair the subcommittee on Energy and Minerals for the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. His emphasis has been and will be on energy development over environmental protections.
Because of the CRA, if Gosar is successful with H.J. Res 46, the National Park Service will be reliant on Congress to direct them to issue similar protections in the future. This should terrify everyone who enjoys our gorgeous public lands. The potential economic impact must also be mentioned. National Parks have continued to draw increasingly larger crowds in the past 5 years. In 2015, over 305 million people visited the park system. Those same people poured billions of dollars into small local economies. If our parks deteriorate in quality and visitor numbers go down, the gateway communities will also suffer.
We’ve seen recently that speaking up works. Reaching out to representatives creates change. The National Parks need your voice now more than ever. By staying engaged, we keep the pressure on Congress to not run roughshod over public lands. Wallace Stegner once wrote, “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” Right now, Gosar’s actions reflect our worst. Do not let him speak for you. Make your voice heard by speaking to your representatives, preferably with a phone call. You can easily search for their contact information using tools like the Countable app . You can follow the progress of H.J. Res. 46 here. Consider calling Rep. Paul Gosar yourself; you do not have to be his constituent to speak up. Stay informed and discuss this with your family and friends. The more voices that get heard, the better chance we have of preserving our National Parks.
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