More Drilling Than Ever on Public Lands

President Trump needs a win these days. Trumpcare is dead in the water — for now. Tax reform legislation is pretty much in the same spot. Divisiveness and back-biting in the Republican-led Congress is at an all-time high. With Special Counsel Robert S Mueller digging even deeper into Trump’s personal and public business dealings, the president needs more than ever to prove his campaign promises are possible.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke may very well be his problem-solver.

Known for his boots-on-the-ground approach to land management (and his horseback-riding skills in Washington DC), Zinke has wasted no time in addressing Trump’s campaign list, at least when it comes to promoting oil, gas and coal leases on public lands.

With less than six months under his belt as secretary, he is already having immediate effect on how the department manages those public resources. He has made dozens of rule changes and posted hundreds of new procedural notices. A department that was once viewed by the Government Office of Accounting (GAO) as a “high risk” for “fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement,” or just in need of “transformation” is now receiving intense scrutiny under Zinke’s watch.

And for Trump’s interpretation of what it takes to “make America great again,” that’s good news. Because it’s opening the door to new oil, gas and coal leases in parks and public lands.

  • This month he took steps to speed up oil and gas permitting, promising to cut what was once a cumbersome process to a 30 day review
  • He’s put a natural gas waste rule on hold that, according to The Hill opinion writer Ryan Alexander, actually had the potential to save money for the department (but really, really irked fossil-fuel companies)
  • Drilling has been OK’ed for the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic; another highly controversial move.
  • Lease sales have been given priority in areas of Utah and Wyoming that serve as habitat for endangered species.
  • He has launched a new committee to examine new ways to get more money for its federal resources, insisting that “[it’s] important that taxpayers get the full value of traditional and renewable energy produced on public lands.”

What is absent of course, is any concise plan to ensure that delicate habitats aren’t undermined by oil and gas drilling, particularly in places like the Arctic, where increased exposure to global warming is a concern. But environmentalists and state officials are also questioning the practicality of some of the administration’s decisions, stating they nullify “much-needed, common-place regulations that were designed to protect the environment.

And then there’s coal, formerly a major resource on public lands. Zinke has already lifted an Obama-era hold on coal mining on public lands, but it’s unclear whether it will attract the kind of revenue that the federal government is hoping for. With this week’s announcement by the CEO of CSX freight railroad that he won’t be buying any more coal cars for his shipping business because “coal is not a long-term issue,” even the corporations that once made their empires from coal, oil and gas are wondering whether fossil fuel resources are a thing of the past.

As BlackRock pronounced earlier this year, when it told Australian Financial Review “coal is dead and oil faces peak demand,” it’s yet to be seen if Zinke’s efforts will really make fossil fuel mining and drilling a going concern for the U.S. government — or for the U.S. taxpayer that has supported a growing renewable energy industry.

Flickr image: US Department of Interior (public domain)

Jan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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