A proposal to expand federal conservation authority over public land should be withdrawn because it would disproportionately burden rural electric cooperatives while threatening grid reliability, NRECA told the Bureau of Land Management.

“This proposed rule could potentially remove large swaths of public lands from uses such as utility rights of way, mineral and natural gas development, and food production,” said Megan Olmstead, NRECA regulatory affairs director.

“It could have far-reaching impacts on electric co-ops across the nation and electric reliability in terms of natural gas and coal availability and siting transmission, generation and distribution infrastructure on public lands.”

In comments filed with BLM, NRECA emphasized the agency’s failure during its rulemaking to conduct appropriate administrative due diligence or to engage with stakeholders as required by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. As a result, the proposal fails to address the many significant challenges that co-ops would face should the current draft be finalized.

NRECA also explained how the remote nature of co-ops’ service territories requires more special use authorizations, easements and rights of way across public lands than most other electric utilities.

“Increased planning, permitting, access, mitigation, fuel supply and vegetation management requirements and costs that result from this proposal could jeopardize the reliability and affordability of electric service throughout NRECA members’ territories, which include 92% of the nation’s persistent poverty counties,” Olmstead said. “NRECA urges BLM to withdraw this proposed rule.”

The proposed rule exceeds BLM’s authority under a congressionally mandated, long-held national policy for “multiple use and sustained yield” on public land that prioritizes “domestic livestock grazing, fish and wildlife development and utilization, mineral exploration and production, rights of way, outdoor recreation and timber production,” NRECA said in its comments.

“We are concerned that this fundamental shift in BLM’s management of our public lands could result in devastating impacts to businesses, our food supply, energy and mineral supply, U.S. competitiveness and the provision of affordable and reliable electric service across rural America,” Olmstead said.

“Co-ops pride themselves on understanding and stewarding the lands upon which they operate and abiding by current land management requirements. We urge BLM to withdraw this ill-advised rule. Should it move forward, we strongly encourage BLM to work with us on the substance of the final rule.”

NRECA has also joined a coalition led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to oppose the BLM proposal.