Leaked Documents Reveal Trump Administration Prepping to Ramp up Drilling, Mining, Grazing on Public Land

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administrators have drafted a “Priority Work List” that reveals BLM’s focus on oil, gas and coal development on federal land as well as the security of the U.S.-Mexico border. E&E News obtained the internal documents, which had not yet been shared with BLM staff.

The list was “assembled by the team at the BLM to clearly lay out our continued commitment to ensure opportunities for commercial, recreation and conservation activities on BLM-managed lands,” BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall told E&E News.

In the first of five subsections, “Making America Safe through Energy Independence,” the following are identified as key components of “BLM Priority Work”:

  • Make additional lands available for “all of the above” energy development
  • Address backlog of Applications for Permit to Drill (APDs) and Expressions of Interest (EOIs)
  • Streamline Federal coal leasing and permitting, and address backlog
  • Streamline oil and gas leasing and permitting
  • Streamline rights-of-way processing for pipelines, transmission lines and solar/wind projectsStreamline leasing and permitting for hardrock mining

A draft BLM “Key Messages Strategy” also shared by E&E News explains, “all of the above” energy development “includes oil and gas, coal, and renewable sources such as wind and solar – all of which can be developed on public lands.” The Key Messages Strategy outlines communication policies and strategies for BLM officials.

The concentration on fossil fuel development is in line with President Trump’s March executive order titled “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth,” which revoked many U.S. climate and environment regulations. In tandem, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s order ending the Obama era moratorium on federal coal leases opened the door for previously halted strip mining projects.

Climate change is not mentioned in the draft BLM plan and as E&E News puts it, “the draft priority list takes aim at almost every Obama-era federal lands management initiative, from landscape-level planning to livestock grazing, and is sure to be criticized by Democrats and conservation groups.”

Aaron Weiss, Media Director for the Center for Western Priorities, states the backlog of permits referenced in the work-list is a “red herring,” because BLM’s own data “show there is no significant backlog of applications.” BLM data also shows oil and gas companies typically take longer to complete the approval process than the BLM itself. Weiss points out this lag on the oil and gas companies’ part is likely due to the fact that in late 2015, they already held more than 7,500 approved but unused drilling permits, according to the most current available BLM information.

“While Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has repeatedly claimed that BLM is pursuing a multiple use’ policy, it is clear that the Administration wants a Bureau of Leasing and Mining, while paying lip service to all other uses, including conservation and recreation,” writes Weiss.

The four other points in the leaked document are titled, “Making America Great Through Shared Conservation Stewardship,” “Making America Safe — Restoring Our Sovereignty,” “Getting America Back to Work,” and “Serving the American Family.”

“Making America Great Through Shared Conservation Stewardship,” discusses managing wild horse and burro levels, “working with partners to develop and implement priority habitat improvement projects,” increasing volunteer opportunities, and effectively marketing a “multi-use mandate.”

“Making America Safe — Restoring Our Sovereignty,” focuses on security projects along the U.S.-Mexico border and ensuring “public lands and resources are available to support the mission of our military.” Trump’s promised border wall, which would imperil many species including jaguars (Panthera onca), is not specifically named.

“Getting America Back to Work,” directs the BLM to “streamline land use planning to support energy and minerals development and other priority initiatives.” It also suggest “streamlining” National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes and increasing the “efficiency of compliance activities” for the Endangered Species Act (ESA), National Historic Preservation Act and Clean Water Act.

“Serving the American Family, “seeks to expand “recreational, hunting and wildlife conservation opportunities” and ease “the grazing permit process” in order to “provide more flexibility to the American rancher.” This section also states BLM intends to fulfill its “trust responsibilities to tribal communities,” and “enhance State and local law enforcement partnerships” to make public lands safer and improve visitor experiences.

The leaked priority list comes on the heels of another BLM messaging controversy last week, after the agency changed its website cover photo from an image of two backpacking boys gazing at pristine green mountains to a picture of a black coal strip from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.