• September 14th, 2017

    Congress is back in session following its summer vacation and, unfortunately, a return of Congress often means a fresh set of attacks made on public lands. These assaults come in the form of three bills: the so-called Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act, the Native American Energy Act, and the Federal Lands Freedom Act, all of which received docket space in front of the House Committee on Natural Resources over the past two weeks. And make no mistake, the bills’ cheerful, benign-sounding names belie the damage they are designed to inflict on public lands.

    The SHARE Act (H.R. 3668), which passed the House last Congress but died in the Senate, is back for another round and has progressed quickly, advancing yesterday out of the committee just one day after it received a hearing in front of the same body. Though it’s purported to be about improving the experience for sportsmen on public lands, the SHARE Act actually does that by allowing land managers to bypass large portions of the Wilderness Act so long as hunting, fishing, or recreation are being prioritized. Practically speaking, any non-compatible use that could conceivably be pursued in the service of recreation—from building structures and tampering with habitats, to allowing motorized access—would be suddenly allowed in wilderness under the terms of this bill.

    Much of the focus in any press you may have heard on the SHARE Act has centered on America’s gun debate, as the bill contains a provision to ease restrictions on the sale of silencers. But our congressional champions were on the ball regarding the bill’s bad public lands provisions. Amendments that would have improved the bill—one from Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) removing states’ veto power for fishing and hunting restrictions, and one from Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) that would solidify protections for wilderness areas—were defeated on party lines. After crankily accepting roll call votes for each amendment, Committee Chair Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) cheerily accepted the eventual 22-13 party-line vote to advance the bill.

    Also scheduled for a markup this week was the Native American Energy Act (H.R. 210), which rigorously limits citizen engagement and government transparency by amending the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to restrict public input on environmental reviews, diminishing the voices of those who would be affected by potentially catastrophic environmental projects.

    And finally, the Federal Lands Freedom Act (H.R. 3565/S. 335) was given a hearing in the House last week. This piece of legislation is an escalation of the tactics being used by those whose goal is to ultimately privatize and dissolve America’s system of public lands. But rather than proposing to transfer the lands outright, as we’ve seen before, the bill seeks to remove federal oversight of oil and gas drilling on public lands, essentially handing crucial land management decisions over to state authorities. The bill would also limit public access to public lands and circumvent federal environmental laws like NEPA.

    It’s a good reminder that we’re often better off when Congress is in recess, but we’re here watching them when they’re not. As these bills move through Congress, we’ll keep you updated about what you can do to help stop them.

  • September 6th, 2017

    Interior Order sets arbitrary process for completing complex environmental review; poses a direct threat to local community involvement in decision making

    September 6, 2017

    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981

    Salt Lake City (Sept. 6, 2017): Heading into last week’s Labor Day weekend the Interior Department quietly issued a Secretarial Order that radically alters how the Department and its agencies prepare environmental analyses and disclose their actions to the public under the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA.  The Order applies to all Interior Department environmental impact statements and provides that additional orders will be issued shortly regarding the more commonly prepared environmental assessments.  These environmental studies are mandated by federal law and are the principal way that the agencies like the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review proposed projects and get public input before committing to actions that will impact the public and local communities.  The Order describes these reviews as “needlessly complex” and suggests that they are “impediments to efficient and effective review.”

    The order would set arbitrary deadlines and length requirements for EISs, by:

    • Requiring that EISs be completed in one year from start to finish.
    • Mandating that analysis be no more than 150 pages in length, or 300 pages where the proposal being evaluated is “unusually complex.”

    “This order undercuts NEPA’s fundamental purposes of ensuring public oversight and informed decision-making, mandating arbitrary timeframes and page limits and setting up another compressed, closed door review,“ said Nada Culver, Senior Director of Agency Policy for The Wilderness Society. “There is no good reason to shortcut or sidestep opportunities for the American public to have a say about what happens on their lands”.

    “The Moab Master Leasing Plan, which took several years of environmental review, analysis and stakeholder engagement, is a great example of how BLM’s NEPA review process works,” said Mary McGann, Grand County (Utah) councilwoman.  “Though the environmental review process took several years, at the end of the day BLM threaded the needle and arrived at a decision which protected places like Arches National Park and gave all parties certainty about the future of oil, gas and mineral development in the heart of Utah’s redrock country.  That careful, collaborative approach wouldn’t have been possible under Interior’s new scheme.”

    “As the controversy surrounding impacts to the Standing Rock Sioux by the Dakota Access Pipeline showed, defective environmental review documents have led to public outcry, injustice that could easily have been avoided, and the perception that federal agencies don’t care about people or environmental values,” said Ted Zukoski, staff attorney with Earthjustice.  “Secretary Zinke should focus on the quality of analysis and encouraging public involvement, not how fast he can please industries seeking profit at the expense of our communities and our beloved national parks, wildlife refuges, and rivers.”

    “This Order is exactly the type of late-night shenanigans we expect from Secretary Zinke’s Interior Department,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “The Order will result in poorer, more hastily made decisions that we expect will favor extractive industry at the expense of our federal public lands.”

    “These late night orders undermine public participation.  They are the latest in a growing number of actions from Secretary Zinke that strike at the heart of our public lands, waters and national parks,” said Ani Kame’enui, director of legislation and policy at the National Parks Conservation Association.  “This Department of Interior’s actions put at greater risk our country’s places of community, origins of history and culture and some of our most iconic landscapes. We are highly concerned that this order could prioritize fast track development over the health and safety of our parks and their visitors.”

    The Order risks the following consequences that will undermine the requirements of NEPA to ensure both public input and informed decision-making:

    • Public, tribal and local, state and federal agency input will have less importance and impact:  The Interior Department agencies will have far less time to take the public’s input into account.  Interior Department agencies will spend less time working with, or considering the input of, cooperating agencies.  It also means consultation with tribal governments will likely be less rigorous.
    • Federal agencies may miss key data: When encountering a significant issue – such as air quality – which requires complex modeling, agencies won’t have the time to do new studies.  It might also deprive the agency the opportunity to perform multiple-year surveys, which may be necessary to understand impacts on wildlife and local communities.
    • Federal agencies may have to spend the same amount in a shorter period: This will mean more resources spent over the short-run.
    • Even more cuts to public oversight and acknowledgment of potential harms before decisions are made. Federal agencies will be recommending yet further narrowing of public input and thoughtful decision-making through a mandated 30-day review, without any oversight or disclosure.
    • Federal agencies will make more mistakes: Cutting corners will mean federal agencies will lose opportunities to build public support for controversial actions and will be more likely to approve needlessly harm to the public health and the environment that further analysis could help avoid.


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  • September 1st, 2017

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today announced plans to offer seventy-five leases for oil and gas development on federal public land on the doorstep of Dinosaur National Monument and in the San Rafael Swell.

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  • August 24th, 2017

    In August, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sent his final monument report to the White House.

    Remarkably, Secretary Zinke refused to divulge what his final recommendations are. But early reports from the Washington Post indicate that Zinke is recommending President Trump unilaterally (and illegally) shrink both Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments.

    Secretary Zinke’s illegal recommendations to the president are the latest salvo in this administration’s continued attacks on America’s public lands.

    It’s outrageous that after 99% of the more than 2.8 million comments received by the secretary supported keeping our monuments protected, Secretary Zinke is still recommending that the president illegally attack our national treasures.

    The truth is, President Trump doesn’t have the legal authority to modify a national monument. If Trump follows Zinke’s recommendations, SUWA’s attorneys—working in concert with our partners from around the country—will quickly challenge his illegal action in court.

    To avoid years of costly litigation, President Trump would do well to simply throw Secretary Zinke’s report in the White House trash.

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  • August 24th, 2017

    In response to news that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has delivered his monuments report to the White House, SUWA executive director Scott Groene released the following statement:

    “Secretary Zinke’s illegal recommendations to the President are the latest salvo in this administration’s attacks on America’s public lands. It’s outrageous that after 99% of the more than 2.8 million comments received by the Secretary supported keeping our monuments protected, Secretary Zinke is still recommending the President illegally attack our national treasures. President Trump should throw this report away.”

    Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument, Devils Garden.

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