DOI: Public Lands Are for Private Exploitation, Others Keep Out

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made sweeping changes this week to the way oil and gas are leased on public lands.

The bottom line: Joe and Jane Citizen—0; Dirty Energy Industry—100.

Even by the low standards of the Trump Administration, the new policies are a shocking negation of public process and environmental stewardship. The oil and gas industry is already sitting on 8,000 unused leases, they don’t need any more gifts at the expense of taxpayers.

Here are the gifts, in short:

  • No more large-scale, multi-stakeholder planning process to determine what are the best use of large tracts of taxpayer-owned lands. Gone is the mandate to ensure “there was no presumed preference for oil and gas” over other uses on public lands.
  • Public participation in lease sales/safety reviews are now optional, as is bedrock environmental review (under the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA). The public now has only 10 days to protest a sale, and sales may move forward even if protests are unresolved. Site inspections by BLM staff are no longer required.

These moves, according to Zinke’s instruction will ease “impediments and burdens” on industry. Heaven forbid they should have to conduct environmental reviews to assess the impacts of drilling and possible spills on wildlife and public lands.

They get rid of the Master Lease Plans, a process put in place by the Obama administration after years of consultation with multiple stakeholders to determine the best use of public lands, particularly those near national parks and monuments.

The Master Lease Plans also helped ensure that everyone who cares about public lands—from county commissioners to sportsmen to Native Americans—had a say before leases or permits were given to the oil and gas industry.

The only good news here is, as usual, Zinke and his staff of former dirty energy lobbyists likely have over-reached. Time will and the courts will tell, but we’ll be looking to settle the score.

About the Authors

Theo Spencer

Senior Advocate, Dirty Energy, Lands Division, Nature Program

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