Tag Archives: leases

170 conservation groups urge Senate to reject Zinke for Interior Secretary

Some 170 conservation groups are calling on the U.S. Senate to reject Rep. Ryan Zinke as the next interior secretary.

Senators will vote in the coming weeks on whether to place Zinke in charge of the nation’s more than 1,500 endangered species, as well as more than 500 million acres of public lands and minerals leasing for oil, gas and coal across the country and in waters.

A letter signed by the groups says Zinke earned just a 3 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters during his two years in Congress.

At his Jan. 17 nomination hearing, he offered no indication he would manage the Department of the Interior differently from what his congressional voting record indicates: that he consistently put special interests ahead of the nation’s wildlife, natural heritage and climate.

“Zinke’s voting record qualifies him to be an exterminator, not the chief protector of America’s endangered animals and beautiful public lands,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, one group that signed the letter.

As interior secretary, Zinke would oversee the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one of two federal agencies responsible for administering the Endangered Species Act.

In Congress Zinke cast 21 votes against endangered species protections. He even opposed a crackdown on black-market ivory from poached African elephants.

At his confirmation hearing, Zinke endorsed increased fossil fuel extraction on public lands despite the fact that existing oil, gas and coal leases on public lands already account for a significant portion of the U.S.’s carbon pollution.

Additional reserves on public lands contain an estimated 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution, which if fully tapped would dangerously tip the scales toward an unlivable planet for future generations.

“Forty percent of America’s coal and 21 percent of our oil are produced on federal land under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior. To address climate change, protect our environment, and prevent another BP-type oil catastrophe, we need an interior secretary who understands the science of climate change and will stand up to Big Coal and Big Oil. Zinke’s confirmation hearing made clear that he is the wrong man for this important job, and the Senate should not confirm him,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

“Donald Trump has turned our foreign policy over to Big Oil and now he wants to hand them our public lands as well,” said Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica. “A movement formed to keep fossil fuels in the ground and that movement will resist Trump and his polluting agenda.”


Federal oil, gas leases stall over sage grouse concerns

Concerns over the greater sage grouse, a bird that ranges across the American West, continue to delay federal oil and gas lease sales, five months after Interior Secretary Sally Jewell proclaimed the Obama administration had found a way to balance drilling and conservation.

The Interior Department said it will defer the sale of almost 60,000 acres of leases that were nominated by companies in eastern Montana as the agency works on new policies for greater sage grouse.

More than 8 million acres of leases previously were deferred in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. It remains unclear when those will be freed up for sales or removed from consideration.

Jewell said in September that Endangered Species Act protections were not needed for the grouse, a chicken-sized bird that inhabits sage brush ecosystems spread across 11 Western states. Grouse numbers declined significantly over the past several decades because of the loss of habitat.

Officials said the decision to forgo protections avoided the need for draconian restrictions on drilling, livestock grazing and other activities that help drive the region’s economy.

It followed a sweeping overhaul of federal public land management plans to limit drilling near grouse breeding areas and allowing oil and gas exploration to proceed elsewhere.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management still is crafting policies to put those plans into effect, agency spokesman Al Nash said. Completion of that work is several months away, he said.

A lawsuit challenging the plans as too weak is pending in U.S. District Court in Idaho. Environmental groups behind the lawsuit contend the land plans are riddled with loopholes that could further drive down the bird’s numbers.

Erik Molvar with WildEarth Guardians said the block on new leases over the past several years — coupled with low oil and gas prices — was doing more to protect grouse than any other factor.

But state officials who applauded Jewell’s September announcement said there’s no need to delay any longer on those sales.

“Leasing falls short of development,” said Tim Baker, natural resources adviser to Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat. He added that any concerns could be addressed before drilling occurs, by adding conditions to leases before they are issued.

Montana Petroleum Association executive director Alan Olson said the lease deferrals represent “more excuses” to block development on public lands.

The Bureau of Land Management was moving forward with plans to sell leases on as many as 93 parcels totaling almost 20,100 acres during an Oct. 18 auction. Those are outside sage brush habitat, but had been deferred until the land management plans were completed, Nash said.

“Each respective plan talks at great length about the need for us to address concerns about the habitat,” he said. “But the guidance we’re going to get goes into detail on how we move forward.”

Interior Dept. halts new coal leases

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced on Jan. 15 that the Interior Department will launch a comprehensive review to identify and evaluate potential reforms to the federal coal program to ensure it provides a :fair return to taxpayers and reflect its impacts on the environment, while continuing to help meet our energy needs.”

This means a halt to new coal leases. The Interior Department referred to the halt as a “pause.”

The announcement follows President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he spoke of improving management fossil fuel resources and moving the country toward a clean energy economy.

The review will examine concerns about the federal coal program that have been raised by the Government Accountability Office, the Interior Department’s Inspector General, members of Congress and the public.

The review, according to Jewell, will take a careful look at issues such as how, when, and where to lease; how to account for the environmental and public health impacts of federal coal production; and how to ensure American taxpayers are earning a fair return for the use of their public resources.

“Even as our nation transitions to cleaner energy sources, building on smart policies and progress already underway, we know that coal will continue to be an important domestic energy source in the years ahead,” said Jewell in a news release. “We haven’t undertaken a comprehensive review of the program in more than 30 years, and we have an obligation to current and future generations to ensure the federal coal program delivers a fair return to American taxpayers and takes into account its impacts on climate change.”

Consistent with the practice during two reviews of the federal coal program that occurred during the 1970s and 1980s, the Interior Department will institute a pause on issuing new coal leases while the review is underway.

The pause does not apply to existing coal production activities.

Also, the department said there “will be limited, commonsense exceptions to the pause, including for metallurgical coal (typically used in steel production), small lease modifications and emergency leasing, including where there is a demonstrated safety need or insufficient reserves.”

In addition, pending leases that have already completed an environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act and received a final Record of Decision or Decision Order by a federal agency will be allowed to complete the final procedural steps to secure a lease.

During and after the pause, companies can continue to mine the large amount of coal reserves already under lease, estimated to be enough to sustain current levels of production from federal land for approximately 20 years.

“Given serious concerns raised about the federal coal program, we’re taking the prudent step to hit pause on approving significant new leases so that decisions about those leases can benefit from the recommendations that come out of the review,” said Jewell. “During this time, companies can continue production activities on the large reserves of recoverable coal they have under lease, and we’ll make accommodations in the event of emergency circumstances to ensure this pause will have no material impact on the nation’s ability to meet its power generation needs. We are undertaking this effort with full consideration of the importance of maintaining reliable and affordable energy for American families and businesses, as well other federal programs and policies.”

The action builds on Jewell’s call last March for an open and honest conversation about modernizing the federal coal program.

Also, the secretary on Jan. 15 said the Interior Department will undertake a series of good government reforms to improve transparency and administration of the federal coal program. These reforms include establishing a publicly available database to account for the carbon emitted from fossil fuels developed on public lands, requiring Bureau of Land Management offices to publicly post online pending requests to lease coal or reduce royalties, and facilitating the capture of waste mine methane.

The full review is expected to take approximately three years.

Reaction to the announcement:

“This measure signifies a key step towards sunsetting a practice that has led to immense environmental destruction, human and health impacts, and is one of the greatest sources of carbon emissions worldwide,” says Amanda Starbuck, climate and energy program director at Rainforest Action Network.

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said, “The Sierra Club applauds President Obama and Secretary Jewell for their leadership in reforming the federal coal leasing program and putting an immediate stop to all new and modified coal leasing. This program is broken, outdated, and does not consider the threat of climate change in our communities, and thanks to the Obama Administration’s leadership, we can proudly say that big coal’s destructive reach over our public lands is coming to an end.”