Western Republicans are objecting to an order by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to incorporate climate change impacts into decision-making at his department.
The group of lawmakers led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said the move raises questions about the future management of public lands and is a way for the Obama administration to implement regulations while Congress continues to debate global climate change legislation. Bishop said Salazar is "bypassing the congressional approval process."
"By moving forward without the passage of a climate change bill passed in Congress, you are creating a number of unanswered questions," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Salazar. "These questions include, but are not limited to, how this initiative will place strains on the current DOI bureaucracy, how land use planners on the ground will implement this order, and what mechanisms will provide transparency in your department's decision-making process."
At issue is a secretarial order Salazar signed last month that establishes a Climate Change Response Council made up of senior Interior officials to develop an across-the-board approach to climate change for the resources managed by the department. The council, chaired by Salazar, will also coordinate with other federal departments.
The move was vital to ensure cooperation among the agencies in a department that has been a "divided house" throughout its history, Salazar said at the time. The council is intended to help enable bureaus to fulfill the requirements already in place to consider and analyze potential climate change impacts when undertaking long-range planning exercises, setting priorities for scientific research, developing management plans and making major decisions regarding potential use of resources (E&ENews PM, Sept. 14).
The lawmakers said they are concerned that the order "puts into question past and future management agreements related to oil and gas development, renewable energy development, recreational use, grazing, hunting on public and private property, and wildlife protection." They claim that existing agreements with states on wildlife management will now be subject to change and that energy companies could be faced with changes in terms of what they can do on public lands.
"Whether through administrative action or court challenges, these new rules will allow special interest groups with narrow agendas to block all existing and future activities on federal lands in the name of climate change," the lawmakers wrote. "This would impose an incredible new burden on federal land managers without any congressional guidance."
The lawmakers said the regulations will hit hardest in the West, where the largest amount of federal lands is located.
Salazar's order will also create eight "regional climate change response centers." The U.S. Geological Survey already has been developing regional science centers to provide climate change impact data and analysis geared to the needs of fish and wildlife managers as they develop adaptation strategies. These centers, currently known as "regional hubs" of the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center, will be renamed and their scope broadened to encompass other climate change impacts on Interior resources.
The lawmakers contend that the new centers will affect local land-use planning on private property across America in the name of climate change. "The net result of such federal intrusion would be to stifle economic growth and job creation," they wrote.
Republican senators who signed the letter include Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Orrin Hatch of Utah, David Vitter of Louisiana and John Thune of South Dakota. House members include Doug Lamborn of Colorado, Don Young of Alaska, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Michael Conaway of Texas, Paul Broun of Georgia, Tom McClintock and Wally Herger of California, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Denny Rehberg of Montana, and Dean Heller of Nevada.
An Interior spokeswoman said the department is reviewing the letter.
Environmental groups have praised Salazar's order, saying Interior is in a unique position to protect the country's wild legacy from the impacts of global warming and that coordination between federal and local agencies and private landowners will help ensure that the United States' forests, ecosystems and wildlife survive the worst effects of climate change.