Under the Trump administration, the Interior Department has moved at a breakneck pace to expand drilling and mining by eliminating or revising policies meant to protect our land, water, and wildlife. Remarkably, in October 2017, the agency previewed its deregulatory agenda by releasing an “Energy Burdens Report,” essentially a hit list of policies compiled from input by extractive industries. Exactly two years after releasing its deregulatory roadmap, an analysis by the Center for Western Priorities finds the Interior Department has taken action on 43 of 49 recommendations, completing 33. The analysis considered recommendations for all Interior agencies, with the exception of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Reclamation.
Shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, the Interior Department asked industry stakeholders to identify policies that “burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources,” particularly oil, gas, and coal. Drilling and mining interests, such as the American Petroleum Institute, ConocoPhillips, and the National Mining Association, responded eagerly with their policy wish lists. After faithfully compiling those industry requests, Interior Secretaries Ryan Zinke and David Bernhardt have used the Energy Burdens Report to give marching orders to career officials overseeing our public lands and wildlife.
The Bureau of Land Management, in charge of managing 245 million acres of public lands and 700 million acres of subsurface mineral rights, has moved forward 16 policy changes designed to increase drilling and mining on public lands. Though the Trump administration still hasn’t nominated a BLM director, the agency has eliminated rules to reduce methane leaks from drilling on public lands, rescinded regulations to make hydraulic fracturing safer and more transparent, and has begun issuing new coal leases after killing a study into the impacts of the federal coal program. Not content to limit their efforts to marquee policies, the agency has dug into handbooks and manuals, updating obscure policies to speed approvals of new wells and weaken protections for wildlife.
The Fish and Wildlife Service, in charge of enforcing our nation’s wildlife laws, has moved forward with 10 recommendations that weaken protections for wildlife. The agency has weakened Endangered Species Act enforcement regulations and withdrawn policies designed to offset the impacts of development on plants and wildlife by requiring companies to leave a “net conservation gain.” Notably, the Interior Department’s top lawyer, former Koch brothers advisor Daniel Jorjani, issued a legal opinion on the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act, saying the agency would no longer hold companies accountable for inadvertently killing birds during drilling activities and other industrial operations.
Off our coasts, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement have moved forward with 9 recommendations to weaken oversight and accountability for offshore drilling. In less than three years, the agencies have scuttled the development of regulations to reduce harmful emissions from offshore operations, weakened safety rules enacted after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and are in the process of weakening rules that increase the safety of offshore drilling in Alaska. At the same time, the agencies are in the process of speeding approvals of seismic testing and developing a plan to allow oil and gas development off of virtually the entire American coastline.
Throughout the Trump administration, the Interior Department has been vocal about its goal of increasing drilling and mining on our public lands. Released two years ago, the Energy Burdens Report provided a dark preview of what was to come for our public lands and wildlife. After taking action on virtually all recommendations from that industry-backed wish list within two years, the question now is, “what’s left to destroy?”