Zinke Unveils Massive Overhaul of Energy & Environmental Policies

Natural gas burns off behind oil pumps in this 2014 file shot from Watford City, N.D. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

(CN) — Virtually all federal energy policies will be overhauled, as will “burdensome” environmental protections, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said this week in a report on how he will “streamline” domestic energy production.

The 44-page “Final Report: Review of the Department of the Interior Actions that Potentially Burden Domestic Energy” was released Wednesday. It takes broad swipes at the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, fracking regulations, Arctic oil and coal mining rules, and outlines a number of Secretarial Orders Zinke has signed or will sign.

Among the findings in the report is that the National Environmental Policy Act impedes domestic development of coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear energy. Accordingly, Zinke said, he has signed Secretarial Order 3358, to “establish the Executive Committee for Expedited Planning.”

The Department of Interior oversees energy development on federal lands and waters, which generates roughly $10 billion a year, according to the report. The “Energy Burdens Report” is the Interior Department’s response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13783. The report “outlines the Trump Administration’s bold approach to achieving American energy dominance,” Zinke’s office said in a statement.

Zinke drew scrutiny this week when it was reported that a two-person company from his hometown of Whitefish, Montana, recently received a $300 million, no-bid, long-term contract to rebuild power transmission in storm-battered Puerto Rico.

His report devotes half a page of bland language to climate change, without saying anything of substance about it. But Zinke said energy development and environmental protection can be accomplished together.

“However, while conducting the review outlined in the Executive Order, we found that several costly and burdensome regulations from the past threaten that balance by hampering the production or transmission of our domestic energy,” Zinke said.

“Our public lands are meant to be managed for the benefit of the people. That means a multiple-use approach where appropriate and making sure that multiple-use includes energy development under reasonable regulations. Following President Trump’s leadership, Interior is fostering domestic energy production by streamlining permitting and revising and repealing Obama-era job killing regulations – all while doing so in an environmentally responsible way.”

The Wilderness Society blasted the report upon its release.

Nada Culver, senior counsel at the Wilderness Society, said Zinke “owes it to the American people to protect our public lands, not sell them out to energy companies without acknowledging the inevitable consequences — and its responsibility to address them.”

She continued: “This report characterizes American treasures such as national monuments, wild and scenic rivers, wildlife, water, and historic sites as burdens. We are also deeply concerned that, according to the report, the Interior Department considers input from the American public a mere impediment to this administration’s relentless push to open all of our public lands up to drilling and mining.

“Public engagement is essential for government accountability and oversight, not to mention fundamental to our participatory democracy.”

At the top of the Interior Department’s list of “burdensome” regulations is the Obama-era program that kept 94 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf off-limits to oil and gas leases. The Energy Burdens Report says this had “an adverse effect on jobs and energy dominance, while drastically reducing access to future revenue.”

Zinke’s and Trump’s “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy” outlines a five-year strategy to “responsibly develop the Outer Continental Shelf and generate much-needed revenue,” Zinke’s office said.

The Energy Burdens Report calls the Obama-era moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands and another burdensome regulation, which “undermines American energy security, inhibits job creation, and reduces revenues to state and local governments.”

Zinke’s Secretarial Order 3348 ended Obama’s moratorium on new federal coal leases.

Another hindrance to energy development that must be eliminated, Zinke said, is regulation of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in gas and oil drilling.

Zinke’s Secretarial Order 3349: “American Energy Independence,” put fracking rules under review. The Bureau of Land Management has published a notice that it rescind the fracking rule on July 29 next year.

The “Venting and Flaring Rule” also caught Zinke’s eye as burdensome. The rule “imposes a substantial burden on industry, especially for marginal well production in energy-rich states like New Mexico,” the Interior Department said. It particularly objects to regulations set to take effect on Jan. 17, 2018. The Bureau of Land Management this month issued a proposed rule to eliminate portions of that regulation.

Nearly all energy or resource development in America comes under the National Environmental Policy Act. But NEPA “has added extra time and analysis to project completion, which adds to uncertainty for industry and higher costs for taxpayers,” the Department of Interior said. “This is particularly true for departmental actions that impact energy and infrastructure projects, such as resource management planning, permitting, and issuance of rights-of-way for pipeline projects and electricity transmission.”

Because of the “unnecessarily lengthy NEPA reviews,” the Interior Department issued a memo in August that limits NEPA reviews to one year and limits environmental impact statements to 150 pages or “300 pages for unusually complex projects.”

The Endangered Species Act also took hits in the Energy Burdens Report. Zinke’s office said the Endangered Species Act “has far-reaching negative impacts on energy production and transmission as well as on critical infrastructure projects. ESA abuses have led to increased costs and delays on projects.”

The Wednesday report promises a review of ESA regulations that are “outdated, unnecessary, ineffective, and inconsistently aligned with Executive and Secretarial Orders.”

The “Energy Burdens Report” also detailed how to promote “American Energy Dominance” at the Department of the Interior, including:

In a mining-related note, the Department of Interior on Thursday said Steven Gardner, a mining consultant, is President Trump’s nomination for director of the office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement.

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