In a late Friday night news dump, the Department of the Interior released a public scoping report for its ongoing overhaul of the greater sage-grouse land use plans. The scoping report is part of a process that has been dominated by lobbyists, trade groups and the oil and gas industry. The overhaul will now move forward without specific next steps or a timeline, a concerted effort that is no doubt meant to leave much of the public out of the process.
In response, Western Values Project Deputy Director Jayson O’Neill released the following statement:
Between his time in Washington, D.C., and California, Secretary Zinke forgot that a handshake is a handshake and that a deal is a deal. The process for this overhaul and public trust has been broken under the Secretary. It appears that Interior is only interested in listening to the oil and gas industry and lobbyists, not the Western communities that maintain, work and rely on healthy sagebrush habitat to maintain their way of life. This scoping report is reflective of industry lobbyists’ direct line to the Secretary and political appointees at Interior, giving oil and gas little to no incentive to come to the table and work with all the stakeholders in sage grouse habitat.”
Western Values Project recently released a report that analyzed thousands of pages of internal emails at Interior made available through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) complaint that found frequent communication and coordination with lobbyists and oil and gas industry trade groups. During a five-month period, Interior officials met with industry representatives and lobbyists weekly, if not more often, meeting at least 20 times between June and November 2017.
A previous analysis of the handpicked sage-grouse review committee found the same political favoritism, discovering that 13 of the 15 recommendations that moved forward were made by an oil and gas trade lobby group, Western Energy Alliance (WEA), including a controversial captive breeding program. There are currently over 6.5 million acres of oil and gas leases in sage-grouse habitat designated for heightened protection under current plans. Of the top 10 leaseholders in sage-grouse habitat, five are members of WEA.
Also published on Medium.