We’re about a month and a half into the new Congress and priorities of both the Senate and the House of Representatives are beginning to coalesce as committees are seated, staff are hired, and legislation is introduced. There was some delay this year as House Republicans struggled to install a Speaker of the House, leading to some questionable subcommittee chairpersons. As we put together our action plans and target lists for congressional outreach, here are some of the things we are keeping in mind:
- With Republicans now in control of the House Natural Resources Committee*, we are likely to see an increase in hearings that tout fossil fuels, privatization of public lands, and extractive industry. Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-AK) has an abysmal 4% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters (meaning he voted for good environmental legislation only 4% of the time), so it comes as no surprise that the priorities of the committee are to increase fossil fuel development on public lands, investigate the Biden administration’s 30×30 initiative, and drastically change the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to allow fast-tracking of extractive projects while bypassing good-governance analysis of those projects.
- The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has further spurred discussion on both sides of the aisle about dependence on foreign energy, raising the stakes for increased oil and gas development, mining operations, and export of resources to ally nations. While the need for less reliance on foreign energy supplies is understandable, this is really just a convenient excuse for fossil fuel proponents and mining interests to “open up” public lands to extractive processes and pass legislation that would bypass rules intended to protect ecosystems, cultural sites, and wilderness-quality lands. The reality is that the oil and gas industry is already sitting on almost 10,000 unused drilling permits. In Utah, the pace of new drilling has come to a near standstill and operators only develop approximately half of the permits that are approved. SUWA will be working hard to ensure that energy independence does not come at the expense of Utah’s wilderness-quality lands.
- Legislation that we expect to see this coming Congress includes the reintroduction of permitting legislation that would weaken bedrock environmental and health laws and perpetuate inequitable and unjust harm to environmental justice communities. Last Congress, Sen. Manchin (D-WV) unsuccessfully tried to attach this terrible proposal to America’s Outdoor Recreation Act, the Outdoors for All Act, and the Advancing Tribal Parity on Public Lands Act. We’ll provide more information on new bills as they are introduced, and we will need your help this year as we advocate for or against them!
One piece of legislation that we can all rally around this Congress is America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act (ARRWA), which will be reintroduced toward the end of March. In just a few weeks, a team of 55 activists from around the US will be convening in Washington, DC to meet with their senators and representatives and ask them to cosponsor this visionary bill to protect more than 8 million acres of wild public land in Utah.
If you would like to get involved in the cosponsorship campaign, you can call or email your members of Congress and ask them to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act (look up your legislators at congress.gov). If you’re interested in leading an in-district meeting with your representative’s office, please reach out to our DC Director, Travis Hammill at email@example.com. We’ll get you set with everything you need to know to hold a meeting with your elected officials.
Finally, if you really want to dive head-first into our cosponsorship push and other important redrock advocacy work, SUWA is currently hiring a Legislative Advocate to lead the charge for wilderness protection in the House. If interested, head over to our careers page to read the full job description.
* The House Natural Resources Committee oversees energy production, mineral lands and mining, fisheries and wildlife, public lands, oceans, Native American issues, and irrigation and reclamation.