**BREAKING NEWS** While testifying at Rep. Lamborn’s hearing BLM deputy director Mike Poole announces a rulemaking plan to, “set guidelines for use of categorical exclusions from detailed National Environmental Policy Act analysis for drilling certain wells.” Ben Geman at The Hill has the story **BREAKING NEWS**
Industry groups and Washington politicians including Western Energy Alliance, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Chairman of the House Energy & Minerals Subcommittee, and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) are trying to use obscure, bureaucratic tools known as “categorical exclusions” to weaken air and water protections in an effort to hand over more public lands to oil and gas company CEOs. Earlier this year, Sen. Barrasso introduced legislation to eliminate May 2010 leasing reforms, and last month Western Energy Alliance was able to put the reform on hold when they won an initial lower federal court ruling. Today, Rep. Lamborn’s subcommittee will hold a politically charged hearing on the subject.
“It’s unfortunate that Rep. Doug Lamborn is using his power as chairman of the Energy & Minerals Subcommittee to create political theater on behalf of the oil and gas industry,” said Checks and Balances Deputy Director Matt Garrington. “We saw what happens under a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ approach to energy development when these same sort of shortcuts led to the BP Gulf oil spill disaster.”
The use of “categorical exclusions” – which exempt drilling permits from scientific review – has a legacy of pollution that includes the BP Gulf oil spill disaster, air pollution levels in the Rocky Mountains that rival Los Angeles and huge declines in western wildlife populations.
Oil and gas companies already receive more than $15 billion each year in special tax breaks. These efforts to rollback protections are about more taxpayer-owned public land giveaways to oil and gas company CEOs, who use the lands to drive up share prices and get bigger bonuses.
Five years ago, President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 into law. This sweeping legislation systematically removed a number of air, water, resource and wildlife protections for oil and gas development on public lands. Specifically, Section 390 of that bill expanded the use of “categorical exclusions” allowing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to avoid scientific review when granting drilling permits to oil and gas companies.
Here are some findings in a 2009 study by the bipartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO):
- The Bush administration applied these shortcuts with increasing frequency, using them in 28 percent of all onshore drilling permits granted from 2006 to 2008.
- In 85 percent of the cases sampled, these shortcuts were applied illegally, and drilling permits were improperly issued.
This “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to public lands management led to unchecked pollution and development. Here are a few examples:
- Ozone pollution now exceeds public health standards in Pinedale, Wyoming where categorical exclusions were used to justify a large number of drilling permits. The GAO referred to the lack of analysis happening at the BLM’s Farmington Field Office as a “shell game,” and noted that air pollution levels had exceed acceptable levels.
- Wildlife experts have charged that the poor planning and reckless development that occurred in Wyoming’s Pinedale Anticline, thanks in part to categorical exclusions, is responsible for huge declines in the mule deer population.
In May 2010, Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar began cleaning up the mess by issuing a series of leasing reforms that included curtailing the abuse of “categorical exclusions” in the permitting process. The reforms have been a huge success. Drilling permits that have been subject to proper scientific review are expected to increase 40 percent this year. The Interior Department is on the right track and should stand strong in the face of Lamborn and Barrasso’s purely political attacks.
SUPPORT FOR REFORMS
The reforms to “categorical exclusions” and oil and gas leasing reforms that were announced in May 2010 were met with sweeping support from sportsmen, conservation groups, and several editorial boards, including the Los Angeles Times, the Denver Post, the Grand Junction Sentinel and the Salt Lake Tribune. And just last month, former agency officials including U.S. Forest Service Chief and BLM Acting Director Mike Dombeck, U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth and BLM Director Jim Baca sent a letter of support to President Obama.
INDUSTRY ACCESS TO PUBLIC LANDS FOR DRILLING
The oil and gas industry is already sitting on more than 6,500 unused drilling permits and idle leases covering millions of acres. If Rep. Lamborn and Sen. Barrasso really cared about developing American energy, they would support “Use it or lose it” legislation to encourage development of drilling leases already issued to oil and gas companies.
|August 2005||President George Bush signs the Energy Policy Act of 2005, weakening air, water, and wildlife protections from drilling, and expanding the use of “categorical exclusions.” These would later be illegally used under his administration to allow industry to avoid scientific review of drilling permits.|
|May 2010||Secretary Ken Salazar issues two critical oil and gas leasing reforms, including:|
|October 2010||The Government Accountability Office issues a scathing, 72-page report outlining the Bush administration’s illegal use of “categorical exclusions.”|
|March 2011||The Interior Department releases a report showing industry has failed to develop or even conduct exploration on 57 percent of existing onshore leases covering 21.6 million acres.|
|May 2011||Sen. Barrasso introduces S.1027, The American Energy and Western Jobs Act, which is intended to rescind the Salazar leasing reforms.|
|July 2011||Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and other Republican legislators launcha partisan attack on the “Master Leasing Plans” oil and gas leasing reform in a letter to Sec. Salazar, despite the fact that the policy will reduce conflicts on public lands and pave the way for future energy development.BLM data is released showing the industry has failed to develop over 6,500 onshore drilling permits, primarily in western states.|
|August 2011||The oil and gas industry wins a lower court ruling to block implementation of IM 2010-118, the “categorical exclusion” drilling reform.|