WASHINGTON - August 17 - This week, the Bureau of Land Management issued a new policy (Instructional Memorandum 2004-110 Change 1) that Interior claims will allow federal officials to hold off offering new oil and gas leases if they think the current plans for protecting wildlife are not adequate. In reality, this new policy is largely cosmetic, maintains BLMs strong presumption in favor of oil and gas leasing, and will do little to protect the Wests last wild landscapes or the wildlife they harbor.
Land managers would still face a tremendous uphill battle to defer leasing under this new policy.
BLM existing direction demands that managers get state director buy-in and sets up an intimidating procedural process that includes a mountain of notification and justification documentation in order to delay leasing. The new guidance reiterates BLMs legal authority to exercise discretion in deferring leasing, but in actuality, it does not remove the significant barriers to actually exercising that discretion which have been raised by current policy.
In addition, the policy is set up so that it can be applied only to a very narrow set of circumstances that might occur during the lengthy land-use planning process. Specifically, it focuses on situations where BLM has already issued a draft or final resource management plan and has already identified protection of the area in question from leasing as the preferred management approach. So, no options for deferring leasing are presented where a draft resource management plan has not been formally issued or where the current draft or final plan, which is still subject to modification by the agency, does not include protection of the area. This new policy would not apply to an area during the years in which a plan is being developed, regardless of whether the agency ultimately decides to protect certain areas from oil and gas drilling, and, for example, would not apply to most of the land impacted by recent land-use plans in Utah and Montana -- draft plans that currently propose opening more than 80 percent of the areas to oil and gas drilling.
For More Information:
Download Instructional Memorandum 2004-110 Change 1 (PDF)