BLM Exempts Oil and Gas Exploration from Environmental Review

New Bush appointee says public lands no longer protected by landmark law
WASHINGTON, DC (August 14, 2007) – A decision just released by the new director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) means that countless potentially harmful projects involving  oil and gas exploration, logging and grazing on public lands are no longer subject to a key federal law that protects our nation’s natural resources, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
NRDC experts say the decision gives a pass to big business by making an end run around requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), a landmark law that gives the public a voice in decisions about federal projects in the communities where they live and work. It declares that whole categories of projects do not result in any significant environmental impacts, thereby exempting them from environmental review.
“This is the Bush administration – though its new BLM director – silencing public input and turning the stewardship of the government into a rubber stamp for industry,” said NRDC’s Bobby McEnaney. “This decision will cause irreparable damage to the great wildlands of the American West, and it leaves the American people totally out of the conversation about what to do with land held in the public trust.”
Just last week, Bush appointee James Caswell was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the new director of the Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM decision attempts to negate more than 30 years of public involvement in preventing serious damage to publicly owned resources, said NRDC. NEPA requires that projects be reviewed for potential environmental impacts, and the public must be allowed to comment. The law allows federal agencies to “categorically exclude” small specific projects from environmental review by declaring in advance that they do not result in any harm. Categorical exclusions have been applied in the past to activities like Christmas tree cutting and mushroom picking.
The new decision clears the way for much larger activities to be conducted without environmental review. For instance, 60,000-pound “thumper trucks” in search of oil and gas could crash through sensitive areas, creating tire tracks deeper than many streams and destroying crucial wildlife habitat. BLM claims that there is no significant impact from trucks pounding the ground with seismic waves looking for oil, so it has categorically excluded this activity from review under NEPA.
NRDC advocates are now analyzing the best method for restoring the vital environmental protections excluded from NEPA today. Options include legal and legislative action.