Interior Secretary Announces Reforms to Oil and Gas Program

On January 6, 2010 Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced reforms to the agency's oil and gas program -- based in large part on the result of SUWA's advocacy on these issues. These reforms include:

  • Curtailing the use of statutory “categorical exclusions” that exempted proposed drilling permits from analysis required under the National Environmental Policy Act.   Now BLM will have to ensure that potential impacts to important resources such as wilderness and cultural sites are fully analyzed before issuing new approvals.  This reform stems from a lawsuit SUWA and others brought against BLM challenging the agency’s use of this short-cut around environmental laws.

  • Changing the way oil and gas leases are offered by conducting an on-the-ground review of most individual land parcels being considered for leasing, increasing public input in the leasing process, and offering special consideration to areas with wilderness, cultural, water, and wildlife resources.  These policies stemmed from SUWA’s legal victory in January 2009 that halted the sale of 77 controversial leases offered at Utah BLM’s December 2008 lease sale and brought the Obama administration’s attention to deficiencies in BLM’s leasing program.

This long overdue announcement is a good first step in reversing the Bush administration’s irresponsible rush to lease special places in Utah.  We are still waiting to see how these new policies will be implemented in Utah to better protect the redrock, and we agree with the editorial writers at the Salt Lake Tribune who said in response to the announced reforms:  “We urge Salazar to also take a close look at further restricting all-terrain-vehicle use on public lands” (Salt Lake Tribune, 1/6/10).

 

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