September 1, 2020 by NRDC
Originally posted on the NRDC Expert Blog.
by Joshua Axelrod Samuel Eisenberg
The Trump administration has unveiled a new rule that will make it easier to drill for oil and gas in national forests. At a time when communities suffer from dirty air and the dangers of a warming planet – from forest fires and heat waves to hurricanes and derechos – we cannot afford to turn carbon sinks critical drilling sites that threaten our health and our collective future.
For over 50 years, strong public participation in the management of the national forest system has resulted in the conservation of critical ecosystems and invaluable natural resources. Because of the myriad uses of these 193 million acres spanning 47 states, a wide range of stakeholders have a vested interest in preserving the economic, spiritual, recreational and environmental value of these forests and grasslands. And preserving these values for the future prosperity and well-being of all is not only the right thing to do, it is mandated by the law governing their management.
The potential for conflict between these uses – particularly development related to logging and mining versus recreational or conservation uses – has given rise to vigorous debate for decades over the more prudent uses of these vast areas. tracts of land. The new rule, however, seeks to exclude the public from this debate in order to serve the interests of the fossil fuel industry, one of the most destructive industries on the planet. Historically, fossil fuel extraction has had a limited presence on national forest lands: in 2019, only 2.7% of the total area of the national forest system had been leased for use by petroleum industries, gas, coal and geothermal energy. Today’s proposal threatens to accelerate national forest land distributions while bypassing environmental scrutiny.
BREAKING: Administrator Trump. issued a rule today to speed up oil and gas drilling #NationalForests.
More extraction with less public input threatens the lands indigenous peoples have relied on for thousands of years and on which we all depend to fight #Climate change. https://t.co/6cZt00PVQy
– NRDC (@NRDC) August 31, 2020
The most disturbing changes the rule makes to the US Forest Service’s long-standing oil and gas leasing practices relate to the elimination of critical environmental reviews, the cancellation of public participation, and the elimination of critical environmental reviews. removal of significant Forest Service surveillance. In particular, the rule:
- Changes the process that the Forest Service uses to consent to the Bureau of Land Management offering oil and gas leases on Forest Service lands. The new rule requires the Forest Service to give consent to the Bureau before proceeding with site-specific environmental reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), even when existing environmental scans are outdated.
- Eliminates the current Forest Service review process for specific lands offered for lease, in which the Forest Service determines whether NEPA has been properly addressed and whether the lease is in line with Forest Service management plans.
- Removes the requirement for the Bureau of Land Management to confirm the Forest Service’s consent before starting a lease sale, making it more difficult for the Forest Service to stop harmful lease sales.
- Eliminates the requirement for public notice and the ability to make public comments on the decision to approve the plan an oil and gas driller would follow – known as a surface mining plan – during development of a drilling site.
- Eliminates the requirement for the Forest Service to consider the environmental consequences of drilling operations before approving a surface use plan.
- Gives drilling operators the right to request unlimited extensions of time to correct violations of the terms of Forest Service management plans, even when such violations are the result of negligence or fault.
When combined with the Trump administration’s NEPA cancellations, the new rule will speed up oil and gas drilling on Forest Service lands while reducing transparency and limiting environmental scrutiny.
While the rule will affect the country’s forests, the western interior forests could see some of the biggest changes. By compiling reports from the Bureau of Land Management, the Wilderness Society and Rocky Mountain Wild have mapped forests in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah where there is known oil and gas potential. As of this writing, these forests and grasslands include:
- Arapahoe, Medicine Bow, Routt, Gunnison, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, White River, Pike, San Juan, Rio Grande, Comanche and Pawnee in Colorado;
- Beaverhead, Deerlodge, Custer, Gallatin and Helena in Montana;
- Humboldt-Toiyabe in Nevada;
- Santa Fe, Carson, Cibola, Gila, Lincoln and Kiowa in New Mexico;
- Ashley, Wasatch, Uinta, Cache, Manti-La Sal, Fishlake and Dixie – representing all of Utah’s national forests.
Many of these forests are close to tribal lands and include the traditional territory of indigenous peoples, raising additional concerns that this rule will further harm indigenous interests and sovereignty, as it undermines the public’s contribution to decision-making. land management.
The West is far from the only region likely to be affected. The national forests of Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky, for example, cover vast deposits of known oil and gas and contain several hundred production sites. For example, the neighboring Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania, which covers privately owned minerals and has been the subject of extensive drilling, paints a startling picture of what any attempt to sell federal rights to petroleum resources and gas could do to national forests elsewhere in the country. Further south, the national forests of Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana have all been identified in previous scans as having potential for oil and gas development.
Ultimately, this rule represents another example in the long list of irresponsible choices in the management of federal lands that have become a hallmark of the Trump administration. Faced with cross-crises linked to Loss of biodiversity, climate change, and the appearance of a global pandemic, the administration has accelerated with the sale of rights to public lands to the oil and gas industry.
In so doing, they exacerbate growing environmental disasters that force land managers to essentially take the exact opposite path. This moment requires the rehabilitation and restoration of ecosystems, the end of fossil fuel extraction and the conservation of natural forests. Allowing more fossil fuel drilling with less public scrutiny threatens the future of these landscapes that people across the continent have relied on for thousands of years.
The new United States Forest Service #USFS rule:
Encroaches on indigenous lands and limits contributions
Eliminate critical environmental reviews
Stop public participation
Promotes climate change
– NRDC (@NRDC) August 31, 2020
Featured image: forest, green preservation, songbirds and breathable air. Cynthia Shahan | CleanTechnica
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