Leasing plan: DOI is ‘streamlining’ regulations, straight past local input

Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017 8:25 PM
Sam Green/The Journal

Late last month, the Department of the Interior released a report titled “Review of the Department of the Interior Actions that Potentially Burden Domestic Energy.”

That’s a fair topic to review, especially if corresponding reviews exist of actions that potentially burden other uses on public lands that are managed for multiple use.

However, that is not the agenda of the Trump administration, which wants to streamline – read: slash – regulations on gas and oil development.

Various uses always have the potential to burden other uses. Water fouled by energy extraction does not support grazing. Livestock trampling through riparian areas can hamper fishing. Motorized trail uses occasionally force nonmotorized users to leap precipitously out of the way. Few people want to recreate on a landscape dotted by well pads, and restoring those lands can be expensive.

If the nation’s public lands are to remain truly multiple-use resources, balance is necessary.

Last year, after an intensive series of public stakeholder meetings and other opportunities for public input, the Tres Rios office of the Bureau of Land Management devised a master leasing plan that would help provide that balance – and certainty of use – across BLM-managed lands in La Plata and Montezuma counties.

The MLP reflected, at least broadly, the values of the local communities, which benefit from diverse economies not dependent on a single resource, and a variety of interest groups, notably Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the city of Cortez, La Plata County and two dozen area businesses including Osprey Packs.

The plan allowed for drilling while protecting other assets, including recreational areas, wildlife habitat, viewsheds and archaeological sites. During the process of negotiating the MLP, energy companies and Montezuma County commissioners asserted that existing regulations provided adequate protection.

That assertion is likely to be tested, because the Trump administration, too, finds MLPs to be overly restrictive, and the Tres Rios MLP never received final approval.

Next June, energy companies can nominate parcels for lease in a March 2019 sale. With 90 percent of the Tres Rios Field Office lands available for energy development, MLP proponents are seeking a balance of uses to level the playing field for tourism and recreation.

It is troubling that Washington can ignore and even eliminate a plan thoughtfully developed in the local community. The local BLM office has pledged to continue working to minimizing negative impacts of energy extraction on other uses of public lands, but resource protection costs money that likely will not be available from an administration that prioritizes energy extraction.

This administration is short-sighted in its singularly focused effort to pay for tax cuts on the backs of our public lands, while ignoring local public input about all desired uses.

That will be a loss for locals and visitors, because the benefits of an extractive energy economy do not come without consequences.