AAC Board Member Len Necefer testifies before Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee to discuss H.R. 3225

The West and East Mitten in Monument Valley, Arizona at sunset. Photo Credit: Dana Buchholz

“The provisions in H.R. 3225 are a necessary first step to improving transparency, protecting natural and cultural resources, protecting land owners, and slowing down the rush to lease in the name of “energy dominance.” This is how AAC board member Len Necefer Ph.D. concluded his powerful testimony to the Committee on Natural Resources on behalf of H.R. 3225, the Restoring Community Input and Public Protections in Oil and Gas Leasing Act of 2019. During the past few years, public lands are being sold off to developers with minimal to no say from the public. Typically these leases are happening quickly and at a very low price point, even for as little as $2 an acre. This has detrimental impacts on not only the public’s ability to recreate on our public lands, it also impacts those who rely on the land itself, not to mention the impact that energy development on federal lands has on climate change.

Len wears many hats. He serves on the AAC Board, is the founder of Colorado based apparel company Natives Outdoors, is an assistant professor with joint appointments with the American Indian Studies program and the Udall Center for Public Policy, and is an avid skier, climber, and conservationist. He was brought in as an expert witness to speak about the current policies of the Trump administration’s leasing process and how it impacts indigenous tribes in the United States with a specific focus on Bears Ears and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. You can read the entirety of his powerful testimony here. This bill would make a big difference when it comes to the protection of public lands and those relying on them by amending the Mineral Leasing Act and creating new requirements of the BLM prior to allowing the leasing of the proposed land to developers. One of these proposed changes would be to uphold the public process that is required of the BLM before making decisions that impact public land.

In our current administration, the leasing process has been altered in favor of irresponsible development. As Len pointed out in his testimony, “poor government oversight, loose regulations, and a far too cozy relationship between regulators and industry,” are all negatively impacting native communities as well as the conservation of public lands. The administration has shortened timelines for public comment allowing leases to often be signed, sealed, and delivered to developers before the media catches wind of the proposal. Unless you are checking the federal register every morning as you sip your first cup of coffee, it is likely that there are proposals that you are missing. A ten day time limit for public comment only reiterates that this current administration is speeding through the process to prioritize development and essentially eliminate the public engagement process. Federal lands are required by law to maintain a proper balance of use, and while mineral extraction is a valid use according to the law, economics prove that the outdoor recreation economy makes up 2% of the GDP, making it a greater economic driver than the oil and gas industry. These numbers suggest that prioritizing recreation on federal lands is a more profitable economic driver than oil and gas. The bill would require longer, more adequate, comment periods that would allow time for folks to identify potential conflicts and allow public land owners (the general public) to have their say.