DOI actions: Energy dominance takes a toll on public lands, public input and other industries

Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 9:52 PM
Connie Clementson, BLM Tres Rios Field Office Manager, discusses a new computer model for taking comments on BLM master lease plans. On Jan.10, Secretary Ryan Zinke issued an instructional memo that formally did away with master leasing plans.

Every new administration takes a hard look at the policies of the prior administration and proposes reforms based upon their own ideas and campaign pledges, but few have acted as swiftly and with such determination as the Trump administration when it comes to public lands and energy.

Those who had hoped our public lands would not be on President Donald Trump’s radar shouldn’t really be surprised. He has spent his life as a land developer. He also spent much of his campaign promising to end the “war on coal.”

In his State of the Union address, he said, “We have ended the war on American energy – and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.”

The energy industry says reforms have been needed, and environmentalists say the opposite and that another type of war began with this president – one that has our public lands in the crosshairs, and that adversely affects air and water quality and our public health, and that negatively impacts outdoor recreation, agriculture, hunting, tourism and renewable energy industries dependent upon these resources.

The administration’s actions in the past year that prioritize the development of fossil fuels to achieve energy dominance are actions that ignore the reality of fossil-fuel-driven climate change; they will benefit our economy in the short term while ignoring the long-term impacts.

What they also ignore is the public, which owns these lands, as we’ve written before. On Jan. 10, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke issued Instructional Memo 2018-034, “Updating Oil and Gas Leasing Reform – Land Use Planning and Lease Parcel Reviews” that effectively guts Ken Salazar’s (President Barack Obama’s Secretary of the Interior) IM 2010-117, a document with the same name but with a very different intent.

IM 2010-117 established a process to ensure environmentally responsible leasing of oil and gas resources on federal lands, to create more certainty and predictability and provide for consideration of natural and cultural resources and meaningful public input.

In the name of regulatory duplication, last week’s memo erases the desired balance between extraction and protection, and public involvement, which is now optional during the NEPA process. It does away with Master Leasing Plans the 2010 memo created and other leasing reforms because, as outlined in an October 2017 DOI report of the same name, it potentially burdened domestic energy development.

Leasing plans, including one developed by the Tres Rios office of the Bureau of Land Management with broad stakeholder input across Montezuma and La Plata counties, were designed to create certainty for all public land users – particularly industry – to direct drilling away from culturally and recreationally significant resources important to everyone who cares about public lands, but especially the local communities who depend upon them most.

Leasing plans were created to bridge Washington and the West. Scrapping them flies in the face of this administration’s interest in “giving local people back their say in public lands management.” Washington, under Trump and Zinke, with plenty of input from the energy industry, is having its way with the West’s lands and resources. Apparently, what the rest of the public thinks doesn’t seem to matter.

If D.C. isn’t listening, we hope our local field office is, and we wonder what it intends to do to honor the local input it received from residents concerned about the impacts of oil and gas development in our two counties.

We are listening.