This Land Is Oil Land, This Land Is Gas Land
The Interior Department is the caretaker of America’s public lands, wildlife and natural resources.
Unfortunately, Interior Secretary Zinke is proving to be a steward for just a few of us—the oil, gas and coal companies who seek to dig and drill our public lands. The rest of us—who own these lands and want to enjoy them, and preserve them for future generations—are out of luck.
In one of his first actions, President Trump issued an order entitled, Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth (Executive Order 13783, March 28, 2017). It required federal agency heads to review all agency actions that could burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources.
The Department of the Interior recently published that review and—no surprise—it is long. Final Report: Review of the Department of the Interior Actions that Potentially Burden Domestic Energy (Oct. 24, 2017).
Here are a few items on Zinke’s “to-do” list:
Roll back public participation
Eliminate oil and gas leasing reforms
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took several steps over the past eight years to give the public a meaningful voice in managing the public’s land. At the same time, the agency provided more certainty and predictability to industry. Under its Master Leasing Policy, BLM strived to bring stakeholders to the table early to identify areas with the greatest energy potential and areas with the greatest conservation value. The agency put proposed leases out for public comment 30 days before making a leasing recommendation to the State Director. This opportunity for comment allowed the agency to identify those parcels that were most controversial and take steps to avoid future litigation. Zinke has proposed to rescind these reforms. Final Report, at 10.
Review and rescind public’s right to protest oil and gas lease sales
Under federal law, the public has the right to protest an oil and gas lease sale. A protest is filed with the BLM State Director and gives the agency a chance to reconsider the proposed lease before issuing it. BLM can correct unlawful action and avoid litigation. Zinke is considering rescinding the public’s right to protest. Final Report, at 16.
Roll back protection
Rescind protections from hydraulic fracturing
In 2015, the BLM finalized rules that, for the first time, explicitly regulated hydraulic fracturing on public land. This followed a five-year drafting process with multiple comment periods and public hearings. The rules were modest, but offered some important protections to ensure that wells have integrity, to manage wastewater and and to disclose to the public chemicals used in fracking. BLM has proposed rescinding the rule. Final Report, at 8.
Eliminate requirements to prevent methane loss
Significant quantities of publicly owned gas is lost through venting and flaring. In 2016, BLM issued rules to limit this loss. The rule was designed to reduce harmful methane emissions from oil and gas drilling the contribute to climate change while putting in place standards that make good economic sense for the nation. BLM has now proposed to suspend the rule while the agency considers eliminating it. Final Report, at 8.
Revise policies for conserving the Greater Sage Grouse
The greater sage grouse, which inhabits land spanning 11 Western states, has declined in population from the millions to fewer than 500,000. Interior put conservation measures in place in 2015 to avoid listing the bird under the Endangered Species Act. Several governors—Republican and Democrat—support those measures. Zinke has proposed rescinding the plan. Final Report, at 12-13.
Roll back wealth
Terminate review of federal coal program
Our public lands and waters are some of our greatest national treasures. They have intangible value for recreational activity from hiking and biking to hunting, fishing and camping. They also hold tangible value in the form of energy resources. Zinke is the steward of these resources for all of us, and he owes the American people fair market value when Interior permits the development of these resources. In January 2016, the Interior Department initiated a review of the federal coal leasing program to ensure that taxpayers were getting fair market value. Zinke terminated this review. Final Report, at 14.
Zinke’s concepts of stewardship benefit just a wealthy few—big oil, gas and coal.
As he opens the door to energy extraction, Zinke is closing it to the rest of us.
While he proposes to rollback regulations on industry, Secretary Zinke has proposed to more than double the fees we must pay to visit 17 of our national parks. This is not my idea of conservation or stewardship.