Bush BLM Maximizing Energy Development, Minimizing Environmental Protection

Statement by NRDC's Sharon Buccino

WASHINGTON (August 7, 2003) -- The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today announced a new policy to open up America's public lands to oil and gas development "in a timely manner" and still protect the environment. The announcement is on its website home page.

NRDC considers this significant action by BLM to be consistent with the Bush administration's rejection of the agency's statutory "multiple use" mandate. What the BLM is promoting, in effect, is a single use of our public lands -- energy development -- at the expense of many other valuable uses like farming, ranching and recreation.

Below is a statement by Sharon Buccino, a Senior Attorney in NRDC's lands program. Sharon is available today for further comment by cell phone at: (202) 744-6515.

"Americans expect our federal agencies to be stewards of our public lands, but the Bush administration prefers that the Bureau of Land Management spend its time and our tax dollars giving away our national treasures to the energy industry.

"Under this new policy, BLM staff are being directed to force open more of our special places to oil and gas drilling, and as quickly as possible. Currently, the management plans for our public lands do not allow for the amount of drilling that the Bush administration wants. The agency's action today focuses field staff on changing these plans in several controversial places, such as Wyoming's Powder River Basin and Montana's Rocky Mountain Front, to boost drilling.

"Bush officials also are rewriting the rules to allow mitigation to occur outside the areas where energy development will actually take place. Mitigation is supposed to be about minimizing environmental harm caused by drilling. The BLM now could avoid doing anything to reduce damage where energy development is taking place, as long as they do something to protect lands elsewhere that are not even in jeopardy. The BLM essentially can claim credit for doing nothing. That's not mitigation, that's a magic trick. Such slight-of-hand is completely inconsistent with the Bush administration's stated goal of speeding up energy development while protecting the environment.

"To make matters worse, the new BLM policy strives for the 'least restrictive' mitigation 'necessary to accomplish the desired protection.' It should be easy to set the mitigation bar low when the administration's desired protection is zero."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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