The Trump administration is considering rewriting the rules on how it decide which public lands can be used for mining, drilling and grazing -- and which to preserve for recreation and conservation.
The move appears to be another way President Trump's deputies are seeking to change regulations to ease the way for more energy development out West.
The changes the Bureau of Land Management is considering are intended to cut down on the time and cost of writing plans for managing the 245 million acres of public lands and 700 million acres of minerals the agency oversees.
The details, outlined in a letter the BLM’s top Alaska official Chad B. Padgett sent to tribal leaders, are unclear. The agency has not yet published any public notice that it wants to revise the rules governing the creation of what are called resource management plans.
“The BLM is considering regulatory changes that would result in planning efforts that take less time, cost less money, and are more responsive to local needs while continuing to meet the BLM’s legal and resource stewardship responsibilities,” Padgett wrote in the Jan. 7 letter, which was obtained by The Energy 202.
Padgett also indicated the BLM is considering revising its rules for how it handles public protests of its decisions to log forests, though most federal land managed for timber harvesting is controlled by the U.S. Forest Service, a separate agency.
Environmentalists are concerned the rule-making could lead to developing vast expanses of Western prairies and highland under federal control.
“This is a big issue,” said Phil Hanceford, director of agency policy and planning at the Wilderness Society who reviewed the BLM letter. “These plans are in place for 20-plus years.”
The agency did not reply to requests for comment.
Congress has charged the BLM to use its lands in multiple ways, setting aside some acreage for recreation and conservation and other expanses to be leased to businesses for extracting resources.
Periodically, the agency puts forward management plans that guide the decisions of on-the-ground managers for several years. Right now the BLM is crafting such plans in the plains of eastern Colorado and the highlands of western Montana, among other places.
The agency is required to have “quite extensive public participation” when writing these management plans, said Mary Greene, public lands counsel at the National Wildlife Federation.
But she said she is concerned the Trump administration’s “focus will be on severely limiting public review time and ability to protest.”
For example, hundreds of thousands of Americans wrote in protest of the proposed management plan for a nearly 202,000-acre swath in southeast Utah once part of Bears Ears National Monument.
Despite the formal protests, the Trump administration forged ahead with a management plan that allowed utility lines to be erected and trees to be plowed using heavy chains in the once protected area.
Under President Barack Obama, the BLM took a stab at streamlining the process of planning federal land use, while also making it more transparent and accessible to the public.
But soon after Trump entered office in 2017, Republicans in Congress voted to strike down the Obama-era regulation, called Planning 2.0, using the Congressional Review Act. The law gives Congress the brief window of time to overturn federal rules after they have been finalized by agencies.
Under the Congressional Review Act, the government cannot issue a rule that is “substantially the same” to one that has been overturned without further authorization from Congress.
Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.
— Proposed rule to ensure people and companies won’t face prosecution for accidentally killing birds: The Trump administration is set to propose regulations that will weaken enforcement of century-old protections for migratory birds. The change to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act will clarify to individuals and industrial operators such as oil, gas and wind companies, that they will not be punished if they unintentionally kill birds, The Post’s Darryl Fears and Juliet Eilperin report.
- The details: “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith said the new regulatory language is needed so that ‘industry can operate without the fear that unintentional acts will be prosecuted’ when birds are killed. Officials said that rather than force industries to protect birds, they will rely on them to do so voluntarily.”
- A legal opinion made permanent: The proposal would make permanent a legal opinion the administration issued in 2017 with a new interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. “Since guidelines under the administration’s interpretation of the law were issued in April 2018, hundreds of ducks, geese, herons and migrating birds have perished in oil pits, on utility lines and other operations without penalty, according to documents compiled by conservation groups,” Eilperin and Fears add.
— Door revolves: EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson is leaving his post to become senior vice president of government affairs at the National Mining Association. Jackson has served as the chief of staff since the first day former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt took office. An EPA official declined to comment on the news, which was first reported by Politico. The chief of staff had been in a standoff with the the agency’s inspector general over a probe of Jackson’s efforts to influence a scientist ahead of her congressional testimony.
— EPA reapproves active ingredient in widely used pesticide: The agency issued a final interim decision to reapprove glyphosate, the active ingredient in Bayer-Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, the most heavily used herbicide in the country.
- The reaction: Lori Ann Burd, the Center for Biological Diversity’s director of environmental health, said the Trump administration’s “assertion that glyphosate poses no risks to human health disregards independent science findings in favor of confidential industry research and industry profits."
- The courts feel differently: In May, a jury awarded $2 billion to a California couple who blamed their cancer diagnoses on using Roundup, marking the third consecutive jury verdict involving the top-selling herbicide.
— A double endorsement: The environmental group Friends of the Earth issued a dual endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), arguing the “future of the people and the planet depends on a bold progressive champion leading the United States.”
- Why both? “Both Senator Warren and Senator Sanders support strong policies ranging from a Green New Deal and breaking up Big Agriculture companies, to fighting for economic justice and protecting our democracy. They are both suited to the task of defeating Donald Trump and restoring sanity to our national government,” the group said in its statement.
- A sign of an ongoing primary battle: “Our dual endorsement recognizes that there is an ongoing battle for the soul of the Democratic Party and the future of the United States,” the group added. “For far too long, Democrats have recognized huge structural and planetary problems like climate change, yet have offered ineffective, incremental centrist policies as solutions. Addressing climate change, the health care crisis, restoring our democracy, and fighting inequality are all issues that require bold ideas and bold leaders.”
FOE Action is proud to announce its dual endorsement of @BernieSanders and @ewarren for the Democratic nomination!— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) January 30, 2020
The future of the people and planet depends on a bold progressive champion. We must ensure that one of these true progressives is nominated. https://t.co/AZFX1dQQt4
— Sanders weighs national climate emergency order: The presidential hopeful is considering dozens of executive orders in order to unilaterally meet a wide range of domestic policy goals if elected. Among the possible actions are declaring climate change a national emergency and banning the exportation of crude oil, The Post’s Jeff Stein and Sean Sullivan report.
- The order are still under review: “The senator is reviewing the list of possible executive orders but has not signed off on when they would be released or their scope, according to the two people with knowledge of the planning, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. Those officials said the document was prepared by Faiz Shakir, Sanders’s campaign manager; Warren Gunnels, a senior adviser; and Josh Orton, the campaign policy director, as well as other policy staff.”
— Fact-checking Trump’s toilet takes: A pair of engineers, Bill Gauley and John Koeller, were surprised to hear Trump's recent remarks complaining about the declining performance of toilets, and the amount of water they use, given their research. These engineers have found today’s toilets are “flushing marvels, able to clear an average of two pounds of paste and paper per flush — more than just about anyone needs, and four times as much as old commodes, despite using less than half as much water,” The Post’s Todd C. Frankel reports.
- What Trump said: “People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once,” Trump said at the White House last month. At another event, he remarked that you have to press dishwashers “12 times… they give you four drops of water.”
- What to know: “But Trump’s frequent allusions to a bygone era filled with superior appliances misses what is largely a story of American ingenuity and continued progress,” Frankel writes. “Several manufacturers and trade groups said these items work better than ever today — while also using less water and power, the result of years of corporate investment and testing. Industries that might normally cheer reduced regulation say they don’t want government efficiency standards eased.”
The Neurath lignite power plant of German utility RWE, west of Cologne, Germany. (Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)
— We may avoid the worst climate scenario: Climate scientists and energy experts now say it’s increasingly not likely that the Earth will face a worse-case scenario “where countries continue to burn oil, gas and coal unabated,” The Post’s Chris Mooney and Andrew Freedman write. Still, experts caution that the climate is still on a dangerous path.
- What to know: “In a commentary published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, Zeke Hausfather of the Breakthrough Institute, and Glen Peters, an energy expert at the Norwegian science organization CICERO, argue that the scenario ought to be discarded,” they write. Instead, they argue that the world is headed for a total warming of around 3 degrees Celsius, which while still severe, it’s markedly different from the 4 to 5 degrees Celsius envisioned in the worst-case, drastic scenario.
- The takeaway: “A key question, though, is whether this all really amounts to good news, when the outlook is taken in its entirety,” Mooney and Freedman write.
— This massive glacier is melting from below: Unprecedented research has led to the discovery of warm ocean water beneath a massive and remote glacier in West Antarctic, confirming that it is melting from below, Mooney reports. Scientists found water at 0 degrees Celsius at the “grounding line” where the ice shifts from resting on bedrock to floating on the ocean, which researchers said was “more than 2 degrees warmer than the freezing point in that location.”
- To quote: David Holland, a New York University glaciologist, called it the “first verification ever of warm water at a grounding zone on the Thwaites glacier, arguably the most important one in West Antarctica.”
- Confirming suspicions about the glacier: “Scientists already knew that Thwaites was losing massive amounts of ice — more than 600 billion tons over the past several decades, and most recently as much as 50 billion tons per year. And it was widely believed that this was occurring because a layer of relatively warmer ocean water, which circles Antarctica below the colder surface layer, had moved closer to shore and begun to eat away at the glaciers themselves, affecting West Antarctica in particular.”
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight holds a hearing on “Management and Spending Challenges within the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy” on Feb. 5.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources holds a legislative hearing on Feb. 5.
- The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies holds an oversight hearing on the Energy Department’s role in advancing biomedical sciences on Feb. 5.
— “Such a good boy”: Days before the Iowa caucuses, Elizabeth Warren’s golden retriever, Bailey, has become a star attraction and the senator’s most popular campaign surrogate, as The Post’s Holly Bailey writes.