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It's trout vs. Trump in new energy policies for public lands

February 6, 2018 Updated: February 6, 2018 at 3:14 pm
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Anglers and environmentalists say President Trump's plan to reshape the federal lease approval process for oil and gas is a means to muzzle their concerns.

The plan will "hand over public lands to the oil and gas industries," according to the Wilderness Society.

The Interior Department released a memo last week instructing its field offices "to simplify and streamline the leasing process" for oil and gas leases with the Bureau of Land Management.

BLM will have 60 days to process a proposed lease, and the BLM offices "may" allow public participation, but it's no longer mandatory. The window for public opposition to finalized leases is 10 days, and unresolved opposition can't hold up a sale, according to the memo.

Trout Unlimited released a statement with a Denver dateline that accused the president and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke of "rolling back efforts to protect sensitive fish and wildlife habitat and involve local communities, sportsmen's groups and other in federal lands planning."

Scott Braden, the wilderness and public lands advocate for Conservation Colorado, fired off a "rapid response" email to the 36,000-plus supporters of the state's largest environmental organization:

"Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will stop at nothing to bring oil and gas drilling to every corner of our public lands. This week, he has proposed to erase commonsense policies that protect our public lands from drilling, including in special places like wildlands and lands adjacent to our national parks. His proposal also cuts opportunities for public comment effectively silencing the voices of hundreds of thousands of stakeholders and individuals who value our public lands.

"The fallout from this attack on our lands could be catastrophic. Zinke's preferential treatment to his pals in the oil and gas industry will fast track the approval of permits to drill on millions of acres of public lands across the West."

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican running for governor, last year sided with the BLM over environmentalists in lease issues.

"This is a step backward in efforts to balance energy development with sporting opportunity," Steve Kandell, director of Trout Unlimited's Sportsmen's Conservation Project, said in a statement.

"The scrapping of master leasing plans dramatically reduces the opportunities for public involvement and shuts out the voices of local stakeholders, including sportsmen and women, in the management of their favorite places to fish and hunt."

The move was not a complete surprise. Trump promised to roll back such regulations, and in his State of the Union last Tuesday night he reiterated what Zinke said on stage at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver last summer: The war on American energy is over.

BLM is key to the administration's America First Energy Plan.

"Oil and gas lease sales on public land directly support domestic energy production and the President's energy dominance and job growth priorities for America," Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said in a statement about increased domestic production last week. "2017 was a big year for oil and gas leasing on federal lands, and these sales provide critical revenue and job growth in rural America. We will continue to work into the next year to identify and modify unnecessary regulations that impede responsible energy development."

Added Brian Steed, BLM's deputy director for policy and programs: "These results are hard proof that our sound energy policy is working for both public lands and Americans in terms of reliable power and job growth opportunities. Going into the new year, we remain committed to an era of American energy dominance through our multiple-use mission that ensures opportunities for commercial, recreational, and conservation activities on healthy and productive public lands."

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