Congressional hearings on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) budget comes at an important time for the BLM. The budget proposes new help for the BLM to improve essential programs and contribute to BLM’s continuing efforts to achieve balance in its growing landscape-level planning efforts. All of this will contribute to a number of important initiatives already underway that are vital to Western economies.
This boost for the BLM’s budget will help implement the BLM’s proposed methane waste rule to limit natural gas venting, flaring, and equipment leaks during oil and gas production on public and tribal lands. Limiting this waste is a win-win-win situation for communities, industry, and the BLM, as it will add millions of dollars in revenue to state budgets and generate increased products for industry to sell.
And that’s critical, because since the leasing reforms in 2010, the BLM has worked hard to decrease lease protests and speed up the permitting process. In today’s hearing, we’re likely to hear industry supporters complaining of onerous federal regulations—but the reality is industry is only producing on 37% of all the public lands that they’ve scrambled to lease—12.7 million acres. Of the 21.8 million acres that are leased but unused, another 10% of these are suspended—which amounts to a lot of locked-up land that’s not producing any (or barely producing) royalty revenue for the American public.
Also included in the BLM’s proposed budget are funds to restore the western Sage-Steppe ecosystem, which is vital to meeting the goals established by the Greater sage-grouse conservation plans released in fall of 2015. These plans came about from an agreement not to list the Greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act in exchange for a proactive conservation plan that conserves sage-grouse habitat on private, federal, local, and state lands. Ensuring the success of the proactive sage-grouse conservation plans will save taxpayers millions, while allowing western economies to thrive.
Finally, funds to continue BLM’s efforts to identify and complete landscape-level planning in the form of master leasing plans (MLPs) are also included in the President’s budget. Enacted in 2010, these leasing plans take a multiple-user approach to balancing oil and gas development with other activities like recreation on public lands, and have been popular and successful in places like Moab, Utah.
By investing up-front in the work the BLM oversees, we’ll save millions of dollars in the long run. The Administration has made it clear the BLM’s planning work is critical to managing our public lands and their benefits to Western economies—now it’s time for Congress to do the same.