It’s not enough that 90 percent of public lands are open to oil and gas exploitation. The fossil fuel industry wants more from the Trump administration. They just got it.
In the latest insult to America’s public lands, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently issued a directive that guts environmental review and public scrutiny to speed oil and gas development. This effort, part of President Trump’s push to ramp up fracking and drilling across America, is intended to remove any “burdens” to the fossil fuel industry.
In the process, Trump and Zinke are taking the public out of public lands, ceding control of millions of acres to industry while keeping the title in the hands of Americans, who have less and less say over how these lands are managed.
Here’s what the latest directive will do:
- Eliminate public input, environmental review and disclosure of harms from oil and gas projects before lands are leased,
- Slash the time the public has to raise objections and concerns to just 10 days, reduced from 30 days,
- End designation of “master leasing plans,” which aim to steer fracking and drilling away from communities, cultural artifacts, endangered species, recreational and other sensitive lands,
- And discourage public land managers from taking any land off the auction block, even if those lands contain sensitive resources and wildlife habitat.
Trump and Zinke are essentially privatizing America’s public lands ― ensuring energy extraction is the top priority and letting the fossil fuel industry call the shots.
Private oil and gas companies already control more than 27 million acres of public land. They also tell the Bureau of Land Management (usually anonymously) which public lands they want put up for auction. This new directive makes clear that, under Trump, the BLM’s job is to give these wealthy private interests what they want.
An analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity shows there’s been no meaningful environmental review, disclosure of harms or public engagement regarding nearly 200,000 acres of public lands in six Western states scheduled to be auctioned off during the first half of 2018.
From Utah’s petroglyph-dotted canyons to Colorado mountain meadows to Wyoming’s sagebrush country, there appears to be no limit to the fossil fuel industry’s appetite for extraction and the Trump administration’s willingness to bend over backwards for these polluting companies.
To Trump and Zinke, this is eliminating “burdens” for industry. To the owners of America’s public lands ― all Americans and generations to come ― it’s about harming wildlife, clean air and water, natural wonders and the places they love. By nearly a 3-to-1 margin, westerners say protecting public lands and preserving access to the outdoors should be the Trump administration’s priority.
But under this latest directive, the public will be largely shut out. People will learn about a fracking pad at their favorite campsite when they see the trucks roll in.
Zinke dismisses the need to determine the environmental, economic and social impacts of fracking and drilling, saying that’s already considered in broader agency land and resource management plans.
But that’s not true.
Management plans can cover millions of acres and are completed before companies decide where they want to lease. BLM defends these plans by promising that analyses of specific areas to be leased will come later and will publicly disclose environmental harms from development. Now, that later will never come.
That means no review showing how drilling and fracking will worsen air quality, including increases in smog that leads to asthma attacks in children.
It means no information about how much fresh water will be polluted or depleted from drinking water supplies, including rivers, lakes, reservoirs and underground aquifers.
And it means no disclosure about what will happen to the polluted water created by fracking. Fracking operations often re-inject this chemical-laden water back underground, which can contaminate aquifers.
There won’t even be an analysis of possible alternatives to reduce harms from drilling or fracking.
The public will be left in the dark and silenced while their public lands continue to be plundered.
Trump and Zinke may want to brush aside these “burdens,” but the law says otherwise. This is another hasty, illegal Trump administration decision to benefit corporations, at the expense of the public, that should be overturned in court.
Randi Spivak is the public lands program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, a national, nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.