The “Disclaimer” Rule Ups the Ante
The current administration is pushing hard to ease the
approval process for phantom RS 2477 claims. On January 6, 2003,
Interior Secretary Norton issued new “disclaimer regulations” to try
to make it easier for the Federal government to grant bogus RS 2477
The Interior Department has said now, for the first
time, that the disclaimer process can be used by states, counties, and
even individuals to obtain rights-of-way under the repealed RS 2477
law. The states of Alaska and Utah, as well as anti-conservation
counties, have tens of thousands of unsupported right-of-way claims
that they are ready to put forward.
The new rule allows states, counties, and local
governments to obtain such disclaimers, even when they aren’t recorded
as owners of any land at issue. The new rule also permits states and
local governments to ignore a statute-of-limitations requirement that
applies to all other property owners. In addition, the new rule puts
the Bureau of Land Management in charge of approving RS 2477 claims on
land within national parks and wildlife refuges, even over the
objections of the National Park Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service. Equally troubling is that the rule was put into effect before
the U.S. Department of the Interior published the standards that it
will use to judge the validity of these claims and refused the
American public the opportunity to comment on those standards before
they were finalized.
BACKGROUND ON THE DISCLAIMER RULE
Read the disclaimer rule amendments and the Interior Department's
none-too-convincing allegations as to why the rule has nothing to do
with RS 2477.
And for more information, read
Press Releases, and
Questions and Answers about the
BLM staffer's 2003 analysis in which he concluded it would be
illegal for the BLM to disclaim an interest in RS 2477 rights-of-way.
POLITICAL LEADERS OPPOSE THE DISCLAIMER RULE
California's US Senators asked in a letter to Secretary
Norton not to implement the Disclaimer Rule for RS 2477 claims. Read
their March 6, 2003,
release on the letter.
April 16, 2003 letter from 87 members of Congress criticizing the
use of the disclaimer rule to grant bogus right-of-way claims, the
very mechanism the Utah-Interior agreement proposes to use.
April 21, 2003 letter from US Senator Jeff Bingaman questioning
the legality of the Utah agreement and the 'disclaimer rule' on which
it is based.
Read a May 16, 2003 letter from California Secretary of Resources Mary
Nichols requesting that Secretary Norton "not process any
disclaimers involving RS 2477 right-of-way claims in California" based
on threatened "significant and unacceptable impacts on federally
protected lands in California."
On July 2, 2003, Senator Joseph Lieberman challenged
Interior Secretary Norton to answer a number of questions on the
impact of the Disclaimer Rule as well as other aspects of the
administration's secretive RS 2477 policy.
Senator Lieberman's press release and his
20-page letter to the Interior Secretary.
an analysis of the Interior Department's response to Senator
Lieberman's July 2 letter that shows just how evasive,
non-responsive, and recalcitrant an agency can be.
A bi-partisan duo of Congressional members (John
Dingell, D-MI and Curt Weldon, R-PA) who serve on the U.S. Migratory
Bird Commission wrote a
letter to Secretary Norton on July 14, 2003 criticizing the
Disclaimer Rule for giving the Bureau of Land Management the final
word on whether claims across National Wildlife Refuges will be
granted - effectively giving management control of the Refuge System
One hundred four members of the House of
Representatives have called on House conferees to the Interior
Appropriations conference committee to retain language that would bar
funding for use of the disclaimer rule within national parks, national
monuments, national wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and wilderness
Read the letter, and
the list of supporting representatives.
HOUSE BACKTRACKS; OPENS WAY FOR PAVING PARKS
After voting in July to bar funding for use of the
Disclaimer Rule to approve highway construction through national
parks, national wildlife refuges, national monuments, wilderness and
wilderness study areas, the House of Representatives reversed itself
in late October, leaving the way open for the Interior Department to
approve such highway proposals.
Read articles in the Denver Post and
Salt Lake Tribune on the backtracking.
panned the backpedaling by the House. See
October 28, 2003 press releases from Earthjustice and from a
consortium of other groups.
Oppose Disclaimer Rule
Read a July 15, 2003
letter from the Ecological Society of America--a 7,600-member
organization of scientists studying ecology - expressing concern about
the ecological impacts of speeding the give-away of RS 2477 claims.
Editorial Boards Oppose
the Disclaimer Rule
Newspaper editorial boards across the country have
written in opposition to the disclaimer rule, including:
THE FEDS MOVE TO USE THE DISCLAIMER RULE GIVEAWAY.
UTAH. In April 2003, the State of Utah signed an
agreement with the Department of Interior to ease the giveaway of
routes over public lands through the disclaimer rule. Read about the
"Memorandum of Understanding" and the firestorm it provoked.
But two years on, the state has made little progress in using the rule
to achieve its ends. They've run into some speed bumps --
inconvenient facts that suggest the claimed routes are not county
ACROSS THE WEST. Undeterred by the slow pace of
progress in Utah, the BLM in July 2005 moved to permit any state or
county to obtain its own Utah-style agreement. Read the BLM's July
instruction memo and
guidance, and a fact
sheet debunking the guidance. Conservation groups raised a host of
concerns with the guidance as it relates to the protection of
wildlands in California. Read their
2005, letter, and BLM's response, indicating that BLM staff in
California have a few questions of their own about the guidance.
OTHER GIVEAWAY - ALASKA'S RIVERS AND LAKES
Another reason the Bush administration pushed the
Disclaimer Rule was to ease the process for handing over control of
potentially thousands of riverbeds and lake beds to the State of
Alaska. Such give-aways could result in mining, drilling, or other
development in sensitive environments. The Interior Department has
already started the ball rolling, giving away riverbeds inside the
Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. In August 2004, the Bureau of
Land Management set up a process for easing the give-away.
Read the agency's "Instruction Memo."
To urge your Senators and member of Congress to oppose
the use of the Disclaimer Rule to help bulldoze America’s precious
lands, take action now.