Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is set to share his ‘vision for American energy dominance’ with the oil and gas-funded Heritage Foundation. Secretary Zinke has been aggressively working behind closed doors, without public input on public land decisions, to roll back commonsense regulations.
Some facts to keep in mind during Zinke’s speech:
- The United States is already the world’s biggest producer of petroleum and natural gas: A fact Secretary Zinke either doesn’t know or has chosen to ignore. The United States became the world’s largest natural gas producer in 2009 and largest petroleum producer in 2013. Both of these milestones occurred during the Obama administration.
- There is already an enormous glut of unused leases and permits: Secretary Zinke may not be aware that the oil and gas industry has stockpiled thousands of unused leases and drilling permits. This represents a drilling backlog of several years.
- “Energy dominance” endangers America’s national parks, monuments and wildlife. We are already seeing what “energy dominance” means to Secretary Zinke: opening as much public land as possible to development. This includes lands right next to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, as well as several other national parks and monuments in the West. A wide range of westerners are opposing these reckless leasing proposals, including Utah’s Governor Herbert, local elected officials in Colorado and Utah, over 350 retired park rangers and small business owners.
- By law, Secretary Zinke must manage public lands for multiple uses. No single use, including oil and gas development, may “dominate” or receive preferential treatment. “Energy dominance” not only violates the multiple use directive, but it threatens the economic well-being of western communities, which depend increasingly on outdoor recreation and tourism, and would irreparably damage iconic, protected landscapes like our national parks, monuments and critical wildlife habitats.
Given these realities, some important questions for the Secretary:
- Why are you calling for more leases when there is little to no demand? Oil and gas companies have access to 90 percent of Western public lands and there is a drilling backlog of several years.
- Are you concerned that fast-tracking permitting and regulatory rollbacks will allow some unscrupulous companies to run roughshod over America’s public lands, potentially leading to a disaster? Even industry has voiced concerns over the administration’s aggressive regulatory rollback, saying they don’t want something disastrous to happen that would open the industry to additional criticism. They also understand the importance of predictability and certainty.
- Do new permitting requirements give the public enough time to review proposed leasing that may be in or near their communities? After announcing a one-size fits all 30-day oil and gas permitting requirement for state Bureau of Land Management offices, in Zinke’s home state of Montana BLM employees cited public objections as one of the driving factors in permitting delays.
- Why haven’t we seen the ‘burdens report’ that was due last week? As part of the President’s executive order on energy, the Interior Department was supposed to submit a report on the ‘burdens’ facing energy development to the Office of Management of Budget on September 24. Nothing has been made public, and many questions remain. Did Zinke submit a report? Who did Interior consult with regarding the potential burdens? Will it be available to the public?
- Why are you throwing out bipartisan sage-grouse management plan and proposing new federal mandates on Western communities? Federally mandating amendments to state sage-grouse management plans will presumably grant more access to oil and gas companies to drill in critical sagebrush habitat. This puts at risk extensive wildlife habitat and access by other public land users, like ranchers and hunters.
- Will you issue any corrections to your error-ridden report on national monuments? Zinke’s recommendations to reduced certain national monuments were leaked to the public. A review by New Mexico Senator Heinrich and other conservation groups found that the report was factually inaccurate in many areas.
- Why does the outdoor recreation industry have zero representation at the Department of the Interior? The outdoor recreation industry is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the country, generating $887 billion in consumer spending each year and supporting 7.6 million jobs. Public lands are the lifeblood of this industry, as national parks alone generated $34.9 billion in economic output in 2016. “Energy dominance” endangers the economic well-being of western communities. Thus far, not one representative from the outdoor recreation industry has been appointed to a position at Interior.