5 Crazy Ways the House Is Pushing Extreme Drilling on Public Lands
By Katherine Arcement
Congress wants us to drill our lands and waters … or else!
Some members of Congress are trying to rig the system to use public lands primarily for oil and gas drilling, and they are threatening to silence and punish anyone who objects.
Under the Trump administration, public lands are being offered up for drilling at higher rates than ever before. Last year the U.S. government offered up 11.8 million acres for lease, or equivalent to Vermont and New Hampshire together. Vital protections for our air, land and water have been eliminated and public input has been minimized.
New legislation is being considered by the House Natural Resources Committee that would hurry the selling of public lands by punishing states and citizens opposed to drilling. It would also relax safety requirements.
These are five of the worst ideas under consideration:
1. Making citizens pay to protest drilling
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) introduced HR 6087, a bill that would require citizens and groups like The Wilderness Society to pay a fee to file comments opposing reckless oil and gas leasing. Oil and gas companies, however, would not have to pay a fee for expressing interest in these parcels.
Protesting is an important way for citizens to weigh in on projects that could jeopardize endangered species, water and air quality, or present other threats to the public's wellbeing. Under Cheney's bill, protesters would pay per page filed with the government. Given the technical nature of a written protest, it could cost thousands of dollars to submit a protest. Under this bill, last year The Wilderness Society would have spent $15,000 in filings.
Oil and gas operations on public lands in New MexicoMason Cummings / TWS
2. Rigging the system to benefit polluters
Rep. Steve Pearce from New Mexico introduced HR 6106 and HR 6107, bills that would limit the ability of federal regulators to review environmental, safety or public health impacts of projects. HR 6106 would stop Bureau of Land Management employees from taking a closer look at several types of oil and gas projects—including roads and pipelines—regardless of the impact they may have.
HR 6107 would similarly bar federal regulators from reviewing certain oil and gas projects regardless of impact. The bill proposes to exempt any project that taps less than 50 percent of the federal mineral resources available, so long as the land surface is owned by another party.
3. Handing out drilling permits as fast as possible
Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) proposed HR 6088, a bill creating a new program for drilling permits on many public lands. It would make it so that after a permit has been filed, a company does not need a site inspection or environmental review to drill. All they have to do is wait 45 days. The only exception is if the Secretary of the Interior personally objects. This idea to rubber-stamp drilling permits would eliminate nearly all scrutiny of public health, safety or environmental impacts of a drill site.
4. Tying our children's education funding to oil drilling
Rep. Scott Tipton's (R-CO) HR 5859 bill would require that we expand onshore energy production to provide funds for education. It would do so by encouraging expansion of drilling on our public lands and incentivizing drilling. The bill would also potentially ignore dangerous consequences on public health, wildlife habitat, and air and water quality. It creates a false choice between selling out children's wellbeing and funding their education.
5. Handing drilling on public lands over to the states and penalizing states that oppose drilling
Possibly the worst idea yet is the "Enhancing State Management of Federal Lands and Waters" bill. This proposal would allow states to apply to manage an unlimited number of acres of federal lands that were within their borders. It would also exempt oil and gas projects from federal environmental laws and put states in charge of all permitting and project regulation. States would then be forced to continue to drill these lands at increasing intervals, as they would be rewarded for drilling more and penalized or have management stripped from them for drilling less. The state of Utah could push drilling in the 2 million acres of land illegally eliminated from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments.
This proposal would also penalize states that oppose drilling off their coasts. States that object to too many leases off their coasts could be charged a penalty that could reach billions or even trillions of dollars over the course of ten years. States that go along with the program would be rewarded by larger shares of royalty payments for resources that belong to all of us.
- The "Enhancing State Management of Federal Lands and Waters" proposal was heard in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on June 14, 2018. It currently is a draft and could be introduced as formal legislation.
- HR 5859, 6087, 6088, and 6107 have passed the House Natural Resources Committee and now await a vote in front of the entire House of Representatives.
- HR 6106 passed the House Natural Resources Committee on June 6, 2018. It now awaits a vote in front of the entire House of Representatives.
Conservation Groups: Fracking, Drilling Would Ruin Public Lands Near Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park… https://t.co/On2eNv8oCb— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1523373742.0
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For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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