Press Releases

Black Files Bill to Grant States Authority to Lease, Permit Energy Exploration on Federal Land

Press release from U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn. 06; February 12, 2015:

Washington, D.C. – Today Congressman Diane Black (R-TN-06) reintroduced H.R. 866, the Federal Land Freedom Act (FLFA) of 2015. This legislation would delegate the leasing and permitting process for energy exploration on federal lands to the states. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is set to introduce the Senate companion bill.

“Today Americans are enjoying a reprieve from the sky-high gas prices that have become a hallmark of President Obama’s time in office. But the fact remains, this Administration lacks a commonsense strategy to create more energy at home and to ensure that affordable fuel costs are here to stay,” said Congressman Diane Black. “Right now, our government is hampering domestic energy production by tying up the process in bureaucratic red tape. In 2014 alone it took, on average, 227 days just to process applications for permits to drill on federal lands. Our states have the tools and regional expertise necessary to regulate energy production on their own timetables and in a safe, responsible manner. That is why my bill puts them in the driver’s seat and returns federalism back to our national energy discussion.”

Congressman Black added, “The Federal Land Freedom Act  will finally loosen the Obama Administration’s grip on energy development of public lands. The states already play a role in the federal permitting process, and putting full energy permitting authority in their hands makes good sense both for our economy and our government. I urge my colleagues to join me in working to advance this critical states’ rights legislation.”

The Federal Land Freedom Act empowers states to establish programs to lease, permit, and regulate the development of all forms of energy resources on federal lands, including renewables.  Once a state makes a declaration that such a program has been established, the state would receive the rights to develop the energy resources located on the federal lands within its borders.

In past years, the number of leases on federal lands has dropped from 131,000,000 acres in Fiscal Year 1984 to less than 35,000,000 acres in Fiscal Year 2014. According to the Congressional Research Service, there are 166 million acres of public lands deemed off-limits or inaccessible by the federal government for oil and gas development. Additionally, the time spent to obtain a permit to drill on federal lands stands at 227 days. In comparison, states average around 30 days to approve their corresponding permits.

The Federal Land Freedom Act would not extend to federal Indian land, the National Park System, the National Wildlife Refuge System, or a congressionally designated wilderness area. The legislation is supported by Heritage Action, Western Energy Alliance, The R Street Institute, and the American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC).

Featured Liberty and Justice

Matheny to Chair New Subcommittee on Federal Powers, State Sovereignty

State Rep. Judd Matheny has plans for a small group of fellow House legislators to start dissecting federal laws that affect Tennessee and analyzing them to determine whether they adhere to a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

Speaking to members of the strongly conservative Tennessee Republican Assembly last month, Matheny, who chairs the state House Government Operations Committee, said that even with a GOP supermajority in both chambers of the General Assembly, more work remains to be done to ensure that the Volunteer state “protects the rights and privileges of citizens,” from what he sees as federal overreaching.

The seven-term lawmaker and former speaker pro tem told the TRA that he is in the beginning stages of setting up a new House subcommittee to vet federal laws and policies that affect Tennessee and opine on their constitutionality.

The so-called Balance of Powers Subcommittee, Matheny said, came out of a failed bill with the same name from the 2013 session that he carried with state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet. The legislation would have given the assembly the statutory responsibility of similarly vetting federal rules.

Matheny explained that if lawmakers approached the committee with a specific state/federal issue, the committee would “rip it apart, tear it apart; we’re going to decide is it constitutional, does it violate our state’s rights.”

“And if we believe that it does,” Matheny continued, “we’re going to issue a report to both speakers, we’re going to issue a report to every member of the General Assembly.”

The Tullahoma Republican spoke candidly about how he sees the ideological breakdown amongst his Republican House colleagues, including those he thinks would be sympathetic to his ideas and those who aren’t conservative enough for his tastes.

Last year Matheny publicly mulled over the idea of challenging Nashville Republican Beth Harwell for the House speakership, but later backed off the bid. Matheny himself then lost the pro tem post in a challenge from Curtis Johnson, a Republican from Clarksville.

“Some of our most conservative people are in the dark and we are trying to emerge from that,” Matheny told the TRA crowd on April 20. “We have probably 25 to 28 of our 70 members who are like us, they being in this room. We have another 20 or so — 25 — that can go either way based on the merits of the arguments or how convincing we can be. And then we have another 20 or 22 that need to go.”

But beyond obliquely calling for primary challenges to more moderate members of his own caucus, Matheny hopes to further his conservative agenda by setting his sights on policies from Washington.

The Balance of Powers Subcommittee has only had one organizational meeting so far and hasn’t looked at any specific issues, but Matheny told TNReport last week, “We’re going to look at executive orders, we’re going to look at mandates, we’re going to look at legislation.”

Pressed for specifics, Matheny said “I’m not sure if these are going to be on the calendar or not, but an example would be the Common Core standards, educational standards that the state is adopting…those are a potential. Executive orders on gun control have been another example that have been brought forward.”

Yet even while Matheny described his new committee to TRA members as “revolutionary” and the first of its kind in the country, it remains unclear how effective it will be.

“We’re not going to do actions that are binding, we’re not going to amend bills,” Matheny told TNReport.

With only enough power to offer recommendations, any substantive actions to address federal policies still rests with General Assembly leadership and the body as a whole, including a Democratic superminority and more liberal Republican legislators.

Press Releases

Tennessee Health Freedom Act Returns

Press release from the Senate GOP Caucus, Jan. 13, 2011:

Senator Mae Beavers and Representative Weaver to file “Health Freedom Act” protecting patient’s right to make their own health care choices

(NASHVILLE, TN), January 13, 2010 – State Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) and Representative Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) announced today they will file legislation to protect the freedom of Tennessee patients to make their own health care choices, regardless of the federal action taken in Washington last year. The bill is similar to legislation Beavers passed in the Senate last year. That legislation, however, was not approved in the House of Representatives.

“The health care law passed by Congress last year is ‘big brother’ at his worst,” said Senator Beavers. “The citizens of Tennessee believe they should be able to choose whether or not they want to participate in a federal health care plan. That is what this bill seeks to accomplish.”

The Tennessee Health Freedom Act, does not seek to “nullify” any federal law, as it would still allow individuals the option to participate in a federal program. However, it acknowledges the right of Tennesseans to refuse to participate in a government-run health insurance program.

“The Tennessee Health Freedom Act, would protect a citizen’s right to participate, or not participate, in any healthcare system, and would prohibit the federal government from imposing fines or penalties on that person’s decision,” said Rep. Weaver. “It seeks a remedy to fight back against the overreach of federal power on the private lives of our citizens.”

Financial experts predict that the federal healthcare plan will consume any anticipated growth in Tennessee’s revenues once the economy recovers, crippling the state’s ability to make future improvements in critical needs like education, job investment and public safety. The federal health care law will also penalize citizens beginning in 2014 if they do not buy insurance.

“We are talking about stiff penalties that will escalate to 2.5 percent of a citizen’s taxable income by 2016 if they do not purchase health care insurance,” added Beavers. “This will put a heavy burden on citizens who are already struggling to make ends meet. I am very hopeful this legislation will pass our General Assembly this session.”


Trace Adkins: The Last Shot’s Not Been Fired in States’ Rights Fight

Country music superstar Trace Adkins stopped by the formal commencement of Tennessee’s sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War Friday where he did a little dreaming out loud of a day when the U.S. federal government shows more respect for state sovereignty.

Adkins, whose great-great-grandfather fought in the war, said he believes the period of remembrance underway to honor the 150-year anniversary of America’s bloodiest conflict is a unique opportunity to reconnect people to their heritage and teach children about history and the sacrifices their ancestors made for their most cherished beliefs.

“Over the generations it has seemed to me that Southern children, because of that terrible slavery issue, have been made to feel apologetic — if not guilty or ashamed — of their heritage,” Adkins told an audience gathered for the Sesquicentennial Signature Event at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville (pdf). “And I for one hope my children don’t feel that way, because everybody knows or should know that the majority of soldiers that fought for the Confederacy did not own slaves. I know that my grandfather didn’t, and had no aspirations of owning slaves. It wasn’t part of his makeup.”

“The main issue” that motivated the South to resist the North, said Adkins, “was states’ rights.”

“That’s what my grandfather told me — that that’s the reason why his grandfather went to war in the first place,” said Adkins.

Furthermore, he added, while the issues of slavery and secession from the Union may have been “settled” by the war, fundamental questions about what role the states have in plotting their own political destinies were not resolved. Had they been, “we wouldn’t still be arguing about it today,” said Adkins.

Adkins also revealed — for the first time in public, he said — that as a statement of allegiance to states’ rights and tribute to the men of the Confederacy who fought to defend the concept, he refuses to cut his hair.

“I’ve had a lot of people over the years ask me, ‘Why’s your hair so long?,’” said Adkins. “The answer to that question is, towards the end of the war when the outcome was obvious to everybody, there were a group of incredibly dedicated Confederate soldiers who said, ‘For me this issue is not settled, and until the issue is settled, I’m not going to cut my hair.’ Neither will I.”

Adkins has in the past written about his understanding of and support for states’ rights. In his 2007 memoir, “A Personal Stand: Observations and Opinions from a Freethinking Roughneck,” he asserted that the Civil War “was essentially fought over states’ rights, a concept that gets glossed over as if ‘states’ rights’ was a slogan that somebody pulled out of thin air and didn’t have any real meaning”:

But it did have some meaning. It still has meaning. States are still saying to the federal government, ‘You are not going to dictate to us how we may conduct our lives in our own state.’

“Today, instead of the blue and the gray, we now have blue states and red states. As we the people of the United States of America become more fragmented and less united, I believe we’ll see more and more states going their own way, passing their own laws, to the point where people will have to choose which state to live in based on which key laws each state passes in its own legislature. It’s not just a conservative or liberal matter, it’s more of a lifestyle choice. For instance, if you believe in abortion rights, you need to live in New York. If you oppose abortion, live in Alabama or South Dakota. If you believe in gay marriage, you might want to move to Massachusetts. If you’re against motorcycle helmet laws, then you can reside in Arizona. Strict or less strict gun laws. Medical marijuana. These are but a few state issues that now dictate where people can ideologically choose to live in the United States. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing, as long as Americans are free to travel and live in whatever state best fits their lifestyle and beliefs. That’s what states’ rights means to me today.

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Ramsey Revving Up Senate for Fresh ObamaCare Resolution

Even as he gears up for a Senate vote Monday urging the state’s top lawyer to sue over the new federal health care bill, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has taken preliminary steps to investigate the use of a special counsel to take up the challenge should Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper ultimately refuse.

Ramsey, R-Blountville, said his hope is that Cooper will see votes in the House and Senate as persuasion to join other states in fighting the mandates of the new federal law, making a special counsel unnecessary.

But the lieutenant governor has been working with Joseph Barnes, director of the Office of Legal Services, searching for precedents as guidance on turning to a special counsel.

Thus far, there is little in the way of a roadmap if the destination is suing the federal government. “There is a precedent for hiring special counsel to defend legislators, or a special counsel when the legislature passes a law and the attorney general refuses to defend that in court because he thinks it’s unconstitutional to begin with,” Ramsey said. “But as far as a precedent in actually suing the federal government, no. So we’re trying to figure out how all this works.”

A Senate vote is scheduled for Monday on a resolution urging the attorney general to join at least 16 other states in challenging the constitutionality of the new federal health care law. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the resolution last week. After that vote, Ramsey raised the possibility of using a special attorney to fight the federal government, saying that if Cooper refuses to do as the resolution asks, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Ramsey said early on that if a special counsel were needed he would like to find someone to handle the job for free.

“Obviously, I’d like to think we could get somebody to do it pro bono. That has happened in at least two or three other states,” Ramsey said. “I have not gotten that far down the road, simply because I hope this resolution passes overwhelmingly in the House and overwhelmingly in the Senate and our attorney general will decide on his own to join in.”

While Ramsey said he wants the attorney general’s action, there is reason to doubt whether Cooper would grant the Legislature’s request. Cooper issued an opinion last week in response to the Tennessee Health Freedom Act, a bill that would allow Tennesseans to say no to requirements in the federal law that mandates purchase of insurance coverage and tells the attorney general to preserve the rights of Tennessee residents and defend the state if necessary.

But Cooper responded by saying the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government priority over the state’s measure. Further, he said the Legislature could not require the attorney general to act since his position falls under the state’s judiciary branch and would therefore create a separation of powers issue. The Senate has passed the Health Freedom Act, but it slowed in the House after Cooper’s opinion and is scheduled to be considered again by the House Commerce Committee on Tuesday.

Ramsey is waving Cooper’s opinion aside, saying that challenging the constitutionality of the federal law is a completely separate issue than what the attorney general dwelt upon in his response to an inquiry from three House Democrats about the constitutionality of the Health Freedom Act.

The desire to fight the federal law focuses on the constitutional grounds of mandating the purchase of insurance, but there appears to be little doubt that one element of the federal law that is driving opinions in several states is the unfunded mandates the law would place upon states by expanding the Medicaid program.

Ramsey, who is running for governor in the Republican primary, has said his effort is not motivated by political ambition. His two foremost opponents in the Republican primary take similar positions as Ramsey on the issue.

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam said the state should pursue all alternatives to address the federal law and that he is open to a lawsuit.

“The health care bill does have serious ramifications for the state,” Haslam said. “It’s going to cost the state over $1 billion over the first five years of it, and we’re in the hole we’re in already. I think it’s incumbent upon the governor to see what the alternatives are to prevent that.”

He says there might be strength in numbers.

“I think if I were governor, what I would be pursuing would be banding together with other governors to go and make our case to Washington about the consequences of the health care bill for us,” Haslam said. “States should look at all alternatives. What you have to do when you do that is always consider the costs and the likelihood of success.”

In a gubernatorial forum Friday in Wilson County, another Republican contender, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, who voted against the health care bill in Congress, said he would do “anything and everything” to protect the state on the health care issue.

“It is unfortunate that our state attorney general is not joining the other states’ attorneys general,” Wamp said, adding that the first signs of trouble came when the federal stimulus bill came down with stipulations for changes in unemployment compensation law.

“This is a constitutional conflict now between the states that have Tenth Amendment sovereignty defined in our Constitution and this nanny state federal government that’s raining down all over us,” Wamp said. “So we do need the attorney general to stand up. We need to legislatively try to cure this. We need to fight it at every level. As long as I’m in Congress, I’m going to work to repeal the whole blasted thing and start over with incremental reform.”

Haslam said he liked what Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander said on the floor of the Senate, that any senator who voted for the health care bill should have to go home and be the governor and live with it for five years.

“It’s like the federal government went out to dinner, ordered everything they want, then sent us a third of the bill,” Haslam said.

Mike McWherter, the likely Democratic nominee, has said the bill is the law of the land and should not be the subject of political grandstanding.