BLM looks to expedite planning

Agency asking for citizen input

The Bureau of Land Management is seeking ideas this month for how to make its land use planning procedures and environmental reviews timelier and less costly.

Some activists find the 21-day comment period, which ends July 24, a bit too streamlined itself. But the move comes as the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association already has begun calling for reduced red tape, citing specifically its concerns about an environmental review for an oil and gas leasing proposal in Mesa and Garfield counties.

The BLM noted in its news release that its outreach follows President Trump’s March 27 signing of a congressional resolution nullifying the BLM’s Planning 2.0 rule. That initiative during the Obama administration aimed to update decades-old planning regulations and provide for more public input. But it was challenged in court by entities including Garfield County that argued in part that it violated the BLM’s requirement to coordinate with local governments.

The BLM is accepting comments at goo.gl/CYxqM5. There, the agency asks for ideas on things such as reducing duplicative and disproportionate analysis; building trust among state and local governments, tribes and other stakeholders and better integrating their needs; and reducing litigation.

Kate Zimmerman, with the National Wildlife Federation, recently called in a news release for extending the comment period.

“With oil and gas prices still low, more than 7,000 drilling permits approved but not being used and more than half the public acreage under lease sitting idle, there’s no reason for BLM not to give this process the time it deserves to find ways to ensure both early public involvement and better conflict resolution. The end result will be timelier, more successful planning outcomes,” she said.

Said Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project, “From master leasing plans to the (greater) sage-grouse collaboration, BLM has plenty of tools at its disposal to facilitate both development and recreation on national public lands. (Interior) Secretary (Ryan) Zinke’s latest dog and pony show is designed to provide cover for more favors to the special interests that have bankrolled his and President Trump’s political careers.”

Even before the BLM’s recent call, David Ludlam, executive director of West Slope COGA, wrote to the agency with a suggestion for streamlining. He made his recommendation in comments submitted as the BLM conducts environmental review of a proposal to offer oil and gas leases covering more than 22,000 acres in Mesa County and about 5,000 acres in Garfield County in a December sale.

Ludlam questioned the need for pre-lease reviews, which were initiated during the Obama administration. He argues that local BLM resource management plans already analyze lands for the appropriateness of leasing, and pre-lease reviews are redundant and become exercises by the BLM in simply pointing back to its prior analysis. The reviews have “the sole purpose of limiting leasing of natural gas resources,” Ludlam wrote.

“Pre-lease scoping, the ensuing draft Environmental Assessment, the following protest and appeal periods, and, the resulting deferrals and delays all contribute to Colorado’s leasing program not being in alignment with current administrative objectives,” he wrote.

The pre-lease review process was instituted by then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as a means of trying to reduce later litigation by involving the public earlier in the leasing process.

Last week, Zinke ordered the BLM to streamline its reviews of drilling permit applications to address thousands of backlogged applications. In doing so, Zinke declared, “The war on American energy is officially over.”


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