September 24, 2008

Congress Should Shelve Public Lands Bill Due to Enviro Lobbying Scandal


A coalition of Western business leaders is urging Congress not to reward "scandalous and potentially illegal behavior" by enacting legislation to establish the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The "National Landscape Conservation System Act" (S. 1139) is a bill to statutorily establish the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It is one of over 90 bills contained in a omnibus lands package (S. 3213) being prepared for Senate Floor consideration by Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee Chair Jeff Bingaman.

General at the U.S. Department of the Interior has initiated an investigation for possible violations of anti-lobbying law by federal employees at the NLCS. Emails and other documents obtained by the House Resources Committee Minority staff raise serious questions about the degree and extent of communications and coordination between top officials of the NLCS and environmental lobbyists.

In a letter sent to Senator Bingaman today, the Roundtable urged the Senator and his colleagues to postpone consideration of language relating to NLCS that would statutorily establish the NLCS within the BLM.

"As you undoubtedly know, federal law prohibits federal employees from using appropriated funds or their official positions to lobby Congress. If these accusations prove to be accurate, federal employees at NLCS actively supported and participated in efforts designed (directly or indirectly) to encourage government officials to favor the NLCS legislation. This would be in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1913," noted Jim Sims, President and CEO of the Roundtable.

The NLCS was first concocted in 2000, by then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, through administrative mandate. The NLCS covers a vast amount of territory of various types and quality, consisting of tens of millions of acres of federal lands administered by the BLM including National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and National Scenic and Historic Trails. The vast majority of these lands are located in 12 Western states.

"If the Inspector General finds that public officials were indeed using their time, office, and influence to lobby for NLCS legislation, what kind of message does Congress send to the American public if it turns around and enacts the very legislation these federal employees were illegally promoting?" said Sims.

"The least we can do is wait until the Inspector General and/or the Justice Department have adequate time to investigate these charges. It would be a shame to allow rogue government employees to benefit from inappropriate and illegal behavior," Sims added.

For more information on the details of S. 1139, see the Roundtable letter to Bingaman.