Zinke expedites leases to oil, gas drillers

It's not enough for U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to open up previously protected lands to drilling—he also wants it to speed up the process. Just a day before miners were allowed to stake claims in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, the Interior Department directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to remove what it calls “unnecessary impediments and burdens” in the leasing process to drillers. The goal? To ensure consistent “quarterly oil and gas lease sales.”

The BLM now will cut the time frame to issue leases to just days and the public protest period to 10 days, meaning there's less time for environmental reviews—that's assuming the BLM will allow public comments or conduct any environmental reviews at all, since the new policy also allows the agency to forego both. Even worse, a proposed drilling site can proceed without the BLM even conducting a requisite site visit, allowing drilling to occur literally sight unseen. And if there are unresolved issues? The lease will move forward anyway. “We’re now returning to the dark days where our government gives oil companies carte blanche to drill next to national parks, around wildlife refuges, and next to neighborhoods,” said the National Wildlife Federation’s associate vice president for federal lands, Tracy Stone-Manning. Apparently, allowing for ample environmental review and public comments is too “burdensome” for the Trump administration, but the numerous risks of oil and gas drilling are not.

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