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Protecting public lands becoming harder

In a 1962 book on the public-lands efforts and achievements by Theodore Roosevelt and other early presidents, Michael Frome stated an observation that, “as long as there is public land, chances are somebody will be trying to separate the public from it.”
A bill passed by the House of Representatives in November seems quite like a current attempt in that direction. The Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act would upend the many public-use purposes for which these lands were established, narrowing their purpose to promotion and speedy execution of oil and gas drilling, primarily.
With wide-reaching effects, it would severely limit the public’s opportunities for involvement in decisions about the national forests and other federal lands. Indeed, it would impose punitive, $5,000 “protest documentation” fines on citizens who might question a gas-drilling permit in their favorite hunting or camping grounds and seek an administrative-appeal review of it.
The legislation seems clearly to place industry in the driver’s seat, not the people who own this land and the elected government to whom they have entrusted its administration. After industry “nominates” desired land, the government’s responsible agency, the Bureau of Land Management, would be required to “offer for sale no less than 25 percent of the annual nominated acreage.”
Applications for permits to drill a particular area would generally have to be approved within 30 days, would receive automatic approval if the decision process is not completed within 60 days, and are essentially assured approval at the outset. Should BLM have community health, safety or environmental concerns about a given project, the applicant must be given any needed “opportunity to remedy any deficiencies” that could negate approval.
To accomplish such drastic public-lands transition to near singular, energy-production use, new bureaucratic entities would be created and generous funding handouts provided. Staff from the Agriculture Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers would be assigned “to every BLM field office” to make up Federal-Permit-Streamlining-Project units there.
The oil and gas resource assessments to help facilitate the streamlining would be funded by the taxpayers, jointly through the federal government and the states. For the federal portion of this cost, the legislation would appropriate to the BLM “$50,000,000 for fiscal years 2014 through 2017.”
As initiated under the Bush administration, these expedited energy projects would be exempted from the National Environmental Policy Act and other, major national environmental and public health laws. The policy changes announced last year by the BLM, seeking to establish a floor of minimal, uniform standards for hydrofracking on the public lands, would be abolished.
And again, Alaskan oil lands long coveted by the industry could be offered for sale – the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and those remaining parts of the National Petroleum Reserve which, under its current management plan, are held open for wildlife habitat and native tribe subsistence uses.
Congressman Roe and all our state’s Republican House members voted for this extremely troublesome bill. Fortunately for citizens who treasure their public lands, the administration has indicated intent to veto it.