At Subcommittee Hearing, Democrats Counter Extremist GOP Attacks on Commonsense Conservation Rule and Antiquities Act

Washington, D.C. – At today’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing, Ranking Member Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) delivered the following opening statement countering Republican’s partisan attacks on the Antiquities Act and the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) new rule to better balance conservation with extraction in land management decisions.

WATCH Ranking Member Stansbury’s full statement. The transcript is available below.

During the hearing, Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) also emphasized the importance of the Antiquities Act in protecting special places important to our natural and cultural heritage. He specifically highlighted the Grand Canyon area, for which members of the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition recently launched an effort to call on President Biden to designate as the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument. Designating the national monument would honor the tribes’ deep ancestral ties to the Grand Canyon, enhance the region’s many cultural, natural, recreational, and scientific resources, and protect the area by permanently banning mining. Past uranium mining has devastated the area, leaving a toxic legacy of pollution and health impacts that have yet to be remediated.

WATCH Ranking Member Grijalva’s remarks and questions for New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands, Stephanie Garcia Richard.

Transcript of Ranking Member Stansbury’s Opening Statement

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I, too, want to welcome all of our witnesses who are here with us today. We know you traveled great lengths to get here, and we're really grateful that you're able to be with us. Hearing from individuals across our communities who represent states and local governments is indeed very important.

But I will note as we're getting started on this hearing, that this is an oversight hearing over primarily a [Bureau of Land Management (BLM)] rule. And I think it's noticeable to note that BLM is actually not present in the room because they were not invited. So, while it's important to hear from our communities, I think in our oversight role, it's also important to hear from the agencies themselves.

We all have places that are important and even sacred to us. For me, in my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, it's the Sandia Mountains, which I live near. For many of our communities, these spaces are not only important to their cultures, to their history, but also to the continuation of their identities as people. For Indigenous communities, it's places like Chaco Canyon, Bears Ears, and Oak Flat. For our land grants and other communities that use these lands as working lands, they're important places to gather firewood for sustaining ranching and for other resource needs.

And of course, these lands are vital to the continued conservation not only of special places, but also the lands, water and habitat that sustain us on this planet. And that is really what is at the heart of today's conversation.

Our communities began a movement more than a century ago to manage our lands at scale. The goal of this management was to make sure that we were preserving those important places and sustainably managing those so that we could ensure the integrity of those landscapes. To manage these places effectively at scale, we need the best science, the best management tools, and the best ability to collaborate at the local level. That includes working with federal, state, and tribal policies through grants and partnerships, tribal co-management, sustainable stewardship, and public private partnerships with private landowners.

To help provide the federal government with these tools and make clear that the lands were to be managed for multiple uses, Congress passed the Federal Land Policy Management Act in 1976, and while Congress mandated the lands be managed for multiple uses, conservation has long been pushed aside.

In fact, 90% of all land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which I will note were actually Indigenous lands long before the United States arrived, are actually open for oil and gas leasing. Most BLM lands are also open to hardrock mining, and more than 60% of BLM lands are leased for grazing. Up until now, there has not been an effective mechanism to also ensure effective landscape level and conservation needs.

BLM’s proposed rule, which we're here to discuss today, will help to fulfill the Congressional mandate of multiple use by creating conservation leases, by allowing federal lands for mitigation of harms from other developments like energy, infrastructure and other development. The rule will help to accelerate transitions to renewable energy while encouraging restoration of sensitive lands and protection of cultural landscapes. It's helpful for land managers as well.

As we'll hear today from our various witnesses--and I especially want to welcome the one and only Stephanie Garcia Richards, who is the Commissioner of Public Lands from New Mexico—New Mexico has boldly initiated a pilot conservation leasing program of its own under her leadership. And like so many other things, New Mexico is leading the way thanks to leaders like Ms. Garcia Richards.

Another federal land management tool, which we're going to discuss today, is the Antiquities Act. When Congress has failed to act, 17 of the last 21 presidents, including the previous administration, have used the authorities under the Antiquities Act to create 161 monuments. These monuments include iconic landscapes that we cherish. In New Mexico, it's places like Chaco Canyon, El Morro, Gila Cliff Dwellings, and Tent Rocks, places that are not only beautiful but sacred and culturally important.

Nationally, it's the Grand Canyon, Olympic Park, Natural Bridges, and Devil's Tower. These are places that are not only sacred and important, they are part of the iconic landscapes that define us as a country. And the Antiquities Act is a crucial land management tool to help ensure that we're able to protect these lands. The public lands rule that we're discussing here today will help to bring us closer to the goal of a climate resilient, ecologically intact, and culturally preserved landscape.

It will correct biases in current practices which Congress intended when it passed the Federal Land Management, Land Policy and Management Act. And along with the Antiquities Act, which is wildly popular across the West, will help to protect sacred places and ensure that we are preserving these landscapes that are important for our communities for generations to come. And with that, I yield back.

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Lindsay Gressard