Tag Archive | "Obama"

Attacks on oil and gas leasing reforms continue

Attacks on oil and gas leasing reforms continue

Prairie dogs are among the wildlife species impacted by oil and gas drilling in the Western U.S. (Photo: Michelle Thomas).

The Obama administration initiated reforms to make the oil and gas leasing process on public lands work better for industry, government, taxpayers, and wildlife.  The reforms have received praise and  demonstrated results – environmental groups have filed fewer objections to leases in response to this more transparent process.  The reforms have also ensured full environmental reviews that examine the risks to wildlife and provide for mitigation measures whenever potential impacts are present or when previous environmental analysis has not been completed on a site.

Energy industry groups, however, have challenged the reforms from the beginning.  Reversing the reforms would mean a return to a closed system in which companies select public land acres they want to lease for drilling and proceed to development with almost no transparency, out of reach from members of the public that want to ensure wildlife, water, air quality and other concerns are fully incorporated into decision making.

Last week, at the request of an energy industry trade group, a Federal Judge in Wyoming vacated a segment of these leasing reforms.  The Western Energy Alliance sued the Department of the Interior over Secretary Salazar’s Instruction Memorandum 2010-118 clarifying the use of categorical exclusions (CX’s), which exempt certain activities from environmental review.  This memorandum is important because it responds to deep concerns about the misuse of categorical exclusions to fast-track oil and gas development projects on public lands without adequate environmental or public review.  IM 2010-118 resolved long-standing issues (highlighted by the GAO) by making the following changes:

1.      BLM would evaluate whether “extraordinary circumstances” were present that precluded use of the CXs to skip environmental review;

2.      BLM would require environmental analysis prior to permitting new drilling at a site where drilling had occurred, but might not have been analyzed before;

3.      BLM would require specific analysis of place-based development before permitting new drilling at a site that was part of a larger field (previously not required).

The judge’s decision to vacate these three targeted reforms found that the BLM’s process for changing its position on CXs was not correct – it did not find that the changes themselves were illegal or wrong.  Industry spokespeople, however, have already tried to use this ruling as proof that leasing reforms should be thrown out or ignored.  This is an incorrect interpretation of this narrow ruling.

The ruling expressed no opinion on the merits of the agency’s policies to ensure that oil and gas drilling will not proceed without necessary environmental analysis. The court’s decision means BLM cannot rely on its 2010 guidance right now, but it does not require BLM to return to a practice of endangering our wildlife and natural resources to permit drilling without any common sense limitations. The BLM retains ultimate discretion over both deciding what lands should be leased for drilling and if, how, and when they should be drilled – and the agency can and should continue to exercise its authority wisely.

Posted in Energy, Fossil Fuels, Public LandsComments (0)

Obama’s Forest Rule: Seeing the Forest for the Wildlife

Obama’s Forest Rule: Seeing the Forest for the Wildlife

President Obama’s draft forest rule is coming soon, and here at Defenders we’ve been thinking a lot about what a successful rule will look like (see our full report here).  This rule will be about so much more than just forests – it’s about the wildlife that depend on our national forests, the water that millions of Americans drink every day that is sourced from national forests, and creating resilient ecosystems that can stay vibrant in the face of climate change.  For us, of course, the protection of wildlife is job number one.  Here are the three key components of wildlife protection that we’ll be looking for in the forest rule:

The American marten depends on national forest land to survive.

Mandatory Species Viability Standard

The Forest Service has a duty to protect biodiversity on the national forests.  For decades, a clear and nondiscretionary species viability standard has been in place as a measure to live up to this duty, and we want to see this standard carried forward.  A viability standard works by requiring that management actions provide for the long-term persistence of fish and wildlife on our national forests.  This means that as the Forest Service plans for the future, the impacts that actions will have on fish and wildlife must be weighed and considered to be sure we aren’t hurting their chance to survive and thrive on our public lands.

Scientists suggest that the viability standard should allow a small loophole – an exception for “external factors” – so that the Forest Service isn’t held responsible when factors beyond its control (like activities on neighboring land) cause a species to decline.  We support the use of such an exception, however, it will only work if applied only when absolutely necessary, and we will be looking for a clear definition.

Assessments of risk to wildlife and habitat

The rule must establish a process for assessing and responding to threats to fish, wildlife and habitat in the development and implementation of forest plans.  The Forest Service cannot maintain the viability of species if it is unaware of what threats to viability exist.  By assessing the likely impacts of climate change on sensitive species, for example, forest managers can take actions to help those species withstand future changes.  We will be looking for strong assessments to inform smart forest management.

A scientifically defensible monitoring program

Forest plans are really all about implementation, and investments in assessments and planning must pay off in good on the ground decisions.  To determine if forest plans are effectively doing the things they say they will, including providing for the long-term persistence of fish and wildlife, the rule must include a science-based monitoring strategy that can be applied to every forest.  Successful monitoring and strategic evaluation is all about collecting the right bits of information that tell you a lot about your effectiveness without wasting time and money.  To evaluate an ecosystem, you need to look at its key components, the elements that make the system tick.  To ignore critical components is to deprive oneself of invaluable information, at the risk of not realizing when the condition of a forest may be collapsing.  For that reason, evaluating a forest’s entire condition based only on the status of it’s trees, and not actual wildlife populations, is like a doctor telling a patient their heart is healthy because they “appear to look good” while ignoring their blood pressure.  We will be looking for a monitoring program in which targeted population surveys for a small group of key wildlife species are used to validate that forest plans are effectively making forests healthier.

Those are our expectations; what are yours?  We welcome your questions and comments!

Posted in National Forests, Public LandsComments (2)

Obama’s Forest Rule:  A checklist for success from Defenders of Wildlife

Obama’s Forest Rule: A checklist for success from Defenders of Wildlife

Cover of the Obama's Forest Rule reportA new report from Defenders of Wildlife provides a checklist for evaluating President Obama’s 2011 forest planning rule, likely to be released in draft form later this month.  The forest planning rule drives planning and management on every acre of our 190 million acre National Forest system, and impacts the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans.  The report introduces a step by step grading system for the new planning rule in four critical categories: wildlife and watershed protection, climate change response, the use of science, and consistency of approach.

See our checklist below and read the full report to learn more.

Image of checklist from Obama's Forest Rule report

Posted in National Forests, Public LandsComments (1)

dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.