A new “energy dominance” policy has made Wyoming ground zero for the Trump administration’s anti-regulatory, top-down mandate to promote energy extraction over all other uses on our public lands. And it’s affecting every aspect of the Wyoming Outdoor Council’s work.
Nearly half of Wyoming’s surface acreage is public land (Bureau of Land Management, national forests and parks) and the feds own and manage minerals underlying millions of additional acres of private land. During past administrations, the federal government has often served as a check on the oil and gas and mining industries’ wishes to forego a necessary balance of multiple uses. Now, the industry’s wish list is the federal mandate — and a strategy of systematically shutting the public out of decisions affecting our public lands is the new normal.
“Well established democratic processes — such as the ability to comment on proposed federal actions — are viewed by the Trump administration as impediments. This policy of ‘energy dominance’ seeks to remove those impediments,” Outdoor Council Senior Conservation Advocate Dan Heilig said. “These are our public lands, and we’re being shut out — project by project and policy by policy.”
Consider a few of the actions the administration has taken in the last year and a half that stem directly from an energy dominance policy:
• Issued an executive order in March 2017 calling for a review of all federal actions that could hinder the exploitation of energy resources and infrastructure, and immediately revoking many Obama-era measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions and protect against climate change.
• Removed regulations designed to improve the safety of hydraulic fracturing, as well as regulations seeking to reduce emissions and leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
• Rescinded the BLM’s oil and gas leasing reforms.
• Convinced Congress to scrap the BLM’s “planning rule,” designed to increase citizen participation in land-management decisions.
• Issued guidance to federal agencies to “streamline” environmental reviews by imposing arbitrary page limits and timelines.
• Scaled back science-based protections in West-wide Greater sage-grouse conservation plans that protect habitat for some 350 wildlife and plant species.
• Offered oil and gas lease parcels in critical wildlife habitats, popular recreation areas, and culturally and historically important landscapes.
Fighting to Keep the Public in Public Lands
Among the hallmarks of the National Environmental Policy Act — our country’s bedrock environmental law — are its requirements for federal agencies to notify and respond to the public about actions affecting the air we breathe, the water we depend on, and the landscapes and wildlife that define our quality of life. These requirements are fundamental to ensuring that the public has a say in what happens to our shared resources.
Since January 2017, however, we’ve seen federal agencies give shorter notice for oil and gas lease sales and shorten the length of time the public can comment on actions related to energy development and the management of our public lands.
Conservation organizations and citizens alike have also found it more difficult to ensure that our comments are even being considered. This year the BLM reported it couldn’t account for tens of thousands of missing public comments submitted in response to the Trump administration’s revised sage-grouse management plan.
Even federal employees who live in Wyoming confide their frustration that the democratic institutions that have long ensured public participation in federal policies are now being whittled away. These civil servants say they are relying on the public’s persistence and continued engagement.
Add to this Rep. Liz Cheney’s tellingly titled “Removing Barriers to Energy Independence Act” (HR 6087) to slap exorbitant fees on citizens who wish to protest oil and gas lease sales, and Sen. John Barrasso’s ONSHORE Act (S 2319) that would give authority to states to approve applications to drill on federal public lands, and it’s clear there’s a concerted effort to aid energy companies and remove the public from public lands management processes.
“We’re seeing policies coming out of Washington, D.C., to benefit the oil and gas industry,” Heilig said. “And their primary strategy? Putting up barriers to meaningful public input in agency decision making.”
What Energy Dominance Looks Like in Wyoming
Today, the BLM is ignoring past agreements with the state and offering lease parcels throughout southwestern Wyoming — including many inside critical wildlife habitats in the Greater Little Mountain area, in sage-grouse core areas, and in parts of the Northern Red Desert that have long been understood to be off limits to oil and gas development.
Even Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke’s overture to sportsmen — an executive order “to enhance and improve the quality of big-game winter range and migration corridor habitat on federal lands” — rang hollow. No sooner had Zinke signed the order than the Interior’s BLM proposed oil and gas lease parcels for sale inside the Red Desert to Hoback migration corridor — the longest mule deer migration ever recorded.
Although Gov. Matt Mead has urged the BLM to reconsider leasing in Little Mountain and the Red Desert to Hoback corridor, he and other elected leaders in Wyoming support many aspects of an energy dominance policy — which influences the actions of our state agencies. For example, the state’s wildlife and environmental quality officials are often reluctant to hold the line — or even weigh in — on efforts to roll back detailed, science-based wildlife stipulations and air quality measures carefully crafted under previous administrations. This is particularly concerning to those who live and hunt in eastern Wyoming, where the 5,000-well Converse County Oil and Gas Project (and other big drilling projects) are slated for approval within the next year.
And in July, Wyoming’s Office of State Lands and Investments offered dozens of oil and gas lease parcels in the Northern Red Desert — home to crucial winter habitat for big game, national historic pioneer trails, wilderness study areas, North America’s largest sand dune complex, and dozens of other historic, cultural, and natural resources. One parcel was even situated in the shadow of the iconic Boar’s Tusk.
These federal actions and policy changes are coming fast and furious. And they complicate nearly every aspect of our program work. Read on to learn what the Outdoor Council is doing to address these challenges and why we need your help.