Unleashing the National Energy Policy on Wyoming

by Meredith Taylor. Wyoming Outdoor Council

In May of 2001, Vice President Cheney issued a "National Energy Policy," developed in relative secrecy by his Energy Task Force. You might have thought that this was just a proposal for a change in approach to energy development in this country. (After all, Congress has yet to pass an energy bill since President Bush took office.) Unfortunately, it's much more.

Since June, 2001, the Bush Administration has teamed up with industry to implement this National Energy Policy, with devastating results for the environment. From the Red Desert to the Arctic, there is a push to expedite the permitting process by reducing public input and ignoring other critical tasks that may be considered "impediments" to energy development, with little regard for the environmental consequences.

Through presidential executive orders and BLM bulletins, the administration intends to override many environmental concerns by: 1) developing a policy of waiving lease stipulations designed for the protection of wildlife, air, water and cultural or historical resources; 2) finding ways to expedite or fast-track the process of approving oil, gas and coal leases on federal lands; 3) expediting the process of federal right-of-way applications for all energy related activities; 4) implementing time sensitive land use plans in order to revise them to facilitate energy development; 5) requiring BLM decision-makers to complete a "Statement of Adverse Energy Impact" on every agency action that may affect the goals of the National Energy Policy, requiring that any decision that has an adverse impact on energy development be justified with a rationale for why energy development deserves to be impeded.

Already in Rawlins, WY, the BLM granted industry 95% of its 2001 requests for exceptions to lease stipulations by ignoring the need earlier identified by BLM and WY Game & Fish Dept. for big game, raptors and sage grouse critical habitat protection. Many of these exceptions for drilling are being granted on lands throughout the state that are protected for sage grouse, an increasingly rare species soon to be petitioned on the Endangered Species Act.

At a recent BLM/Petroleum Association of Wyoming hosted oil and gas workshop in Casper, hundreds of industry representatives listened to the administration's proposal for expediting and streamlining energy development. Interestingly, neither the public nor conservation interests were invited to attend this forum. There the BLM explained the charge of the new National Energy Office and National Energy Policy's implementation schedule to the anxious audience. The BLM plans to expedite the leasing and permitting process clearly told industry what they wanted to hear - that future National Environmental Policy Act analysis and Endangered Species Act consultation would be fast-tracked in "time sensitive" plans. This roll-back of public input and natural resource protection has left out the public and wildlife interests.

Lease stipulations that include well-established timing restrictions are important. Wildlife need some basic protections from the unprecedented habitat fragmentation of energy development consuming the Red Desert, Green River Basin and Powder River Basin daily. Jim Baca, the former BLM Director, recently said "I have never before seen such an assault on public lands and the quality of life in the western U.S."

In reality, the Administration's claims of too many regulations and onerous stipulations slowing up development don't match the mineral leasing and production data recently published by the BLM in the March, 2002 Oil & Gas Activity Report that lists:

* Wyoming had the highest oil production (36 mmbls) on 2000 federal onshore mineral leases

* Wyoming BLM has the highest number of Applications for Permit to Drill (APD) approved in 2001 while the number of APDs withdrawn or rejected is almost zero.

* Wyoming has the highest BLM oil/gas competitive lease sales

* Wyoming has the highest annual gas production in history

* US public lands saw the highest percentage of total oil and gas leases producing in 2000 of anytime in history

Thus, the perception presented by the oil and gas industry as well as the administration of excessive restrictions with onerous regulations is just not true. The government's collusion with industry and the resulting reduction of protection for wildlife, streams, lakes, clean air, open spaces, and undisturbed habitat on public lands bodes well for the administration's big business friends and campaign contributors and special interests but not for the rest of America. The National Energy Policy is a one-sided policy. Those of us who enjoy our public lands for activities besides energy development, such as recreation, hunting, fishing and solitude, have been left out of the National Energy Policy equation.

Meredith Taylor is Yellowstone Field Director for WY Outdoor Council.