Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Western governors fume over Obama plan for wilderness areas

Republican governors from across the country made clear this week how much they think Obama administration initiatives interfere with their states' rights. In the West, Republican governors are especially riled up about the possibility that more federal land could be designated as wilderness, and they fear it might slow energy development in their states, said Idaho Gov. Butch Otter. "I see it as a job-killer," said Otter, who along with fellow Republican Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah, testified Tuesday before a House of Representatives committee about their concerns with a new Obama administration policy. It could extend federal protection without congressional approval to millions of acres of wild lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced late last year that the government will begin inventorying BLM holdings across the country in an effort to identify and protect wilderness-quality land. Many Republican lawmakers and Western governors say they worry that the inventory - on pause during the Bush administration - could make it more difficult to develop oil and gas or other energy and mineral resources on BLM land. States were "totally ignored," when the inventory was announced, said Otter, who was among the GOP governors in Washington for their annual winter gathering. He said he's particularly concerned about what would happen to geothermal energy projects and potential wind power complexes proposed on BLM land in Idaho, as well as plans for transmission lines across some BLM land. The agency manages nearly a quarter of the land in Idaho, or about 12 million acres. The Interior Department has been actively fighting the way the BLM inventory is being characterized by Republicans, particularly those on the House Natural Resources Committee. The Interior Department had to fight to persuade the committee to allow BLM director Robert Abbey to participate in the hearing. The agency also put out a fact sheet countering some of the characterizations of their inventory process, including claims that it could hurt the ability to develop wind and other energy resources on BLM land...more

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