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Public Lands Under Siege: Trump Administration Moves to Hasten Drilling, Weaken Public Input

Oil pumps just outside Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Mason Cummings / Wilderness Society

The Interior Department is moving to expedite the leasing process for allowing oil and gas drilling on public land, according to an agency memo made public Thursday.

The memo released by the Bureau of Land Management states that it seeks to "simplify and streamline the leasing process to alleviate unnecessary impediments and burdens ... to ensure quarterly oil and gas lease sales are consistently held."


The directive issues several new guidelines to shorten the timeline for drilling, including requiring all lease sales to be processed within a 60-day period, allowing formerly mandatory public participation in lease reviews to be left to the discretion of lower-level field officials, and shortening the public protest period on lease sales to 10 days. The memo was issued one day before the Interior Department opened leasing and mining on the recently-reduced Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears monuments in Utah.

As reported by the Washington Post:

"The Wilderness Society pointed out that oil and gas companies owned leases on 15 million acres before 2017, with thousands of drilling permits they haven't used.

'Today's announced sweeping change to BLM's oil and gas leasing program threatens irreplaceable federal public lands and resources in Utah and across the West,' said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Wilderness Alliance. He called it a 'lease first, think later' policy that is 'fundamentally inconsistent with federal laws that demand agencies think before they act and consider the full range of impacts from selling oil and gas leases.'

Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said that it is 'deeply disturbing that the Trump administration wants to give fossil fuel companies free rein over our public lands, without community input or disclosing environmental harms.' The changes announced won't speed up oil and gas leasing, Saul predicted. 'They'll result in rushed, ill-considered, illegal decisions that will be overturned in court.'"

For a deeper dive:

Memo: Washington Post, The Hill, Washington Examiner. Monuments: Earther

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