Republicans Resurrect Bill To Give States The Keys To Federal Lands

The legislation, sponsored by seven industry-funded Republicans, would give states authority over all oil, gas and coal development on public lands.
An oil well jack pump and a natural gas flare-off at sunset in the Bakken oil field north of Williston, North Dakota.
An oil well jack pump and a natural gas flare-off at sunset in the Bakken oil field north of Williston, North Dakota.
Photo by William Campbell/Corbis via Getty Images

A group of Republican senators has reintroduced legislation to strip the federal government of its authority over leasing, permitting and regulating energy development on federally controlled acres.

The so-called Federal Land Freedom Act would “give states the right to develop all of the energy resources on the federal lands located within the state’s borders,” reads a press release from co-sponsor Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). It would also exempt energy activity from requirements of landmark environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, as well as reverse the flow of royalties, with companies paying those fees directly to states instead of the federal government.

In a statement accompanying the release, Cramer said the Biden administration has “worked to hamstring American energy production” and that the bill “would give North Dakota greater control over how to best utilize Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands within our borders.”

The change would not impact tribal, national park, national refuge or wilderness-designated lands.

It is a dream bill for America’s oil and gas sector, as states are often much more friendly to extraction than the federal government. In fact, in his press release, Cramer noted just two organizations that support the bill: the North Dakota Petroleum Council and the Lignite Energy Council, a coal industry group.

The bill’s primary sponsor is Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a longtime climate change denier who famously brought a snowball to the Senate floor in 2015 in a sad attempt to demonstrate that global warming was a hoax. Other co-sponsors are Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).

These seven Republicans have collectively received more than $10 million in oil and gas industry contributions over their careers in Congress, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.

The bill, last introduced during President Barack Obama’s tenure, is part of a long Republican effort to pawn off and privatize the federal estate. In a post to Twitter, Greg Zimmerman, director at Project 30x30, called it “a retread of the insanely unpopular attempts by [Republican] lawmakers during the Obama years to seize American-owned public lands, give them to states, and swing the doors open to extraction.”

Its resurrection comes as the Biden administration works to finalize a sweeping review of the federal oil and gas leasing program. President Joe Biden vowed on the campaign trail to “transition away from the oil industry,” yet permits to drill for oil and gas on public lands have increased under Biden’s watch.

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