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BLM Considers Ending Environmental Review On Land-Use Plans

Planning and NEPA Map
Bureau of Land Management

The Trump Administration is looking at removing environmental review requirements from public land-use plans. The possible changes by the Bureau of Land Management is one of several suggestions in a document obtained by Bloomberg News.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements have long been part of land-use planning as the Bureau of Land Management balances energy production and conservation. Any plan must include a finalized environmental impact statement.
Chad Padgett, state director of the BLM in Alaska, referenced the possible changes to land-use plans in a letter last month. The Washington Post published the letter.

"The BLM is considering regulatory changes that would result in planning efforts that take less time, cost less money, and are more responsive to local need while continuing to meet the BLM's legal and resource stewardship responsibilities," wrote Padgett.

BLM spokesman Derrick Henry said, "we don't currently have a timeline to start the rulemaking process for this proposal. If we move forward with a proposed rule, we will notify the public, as required by law."

Last month, the Trump Administration's Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) took steps to overhaul the NEPA process in order to "facilitate more efficient, effective, and timely NEPA reviews by simplifying and clarifying regulatory requirements."

Then, the CEQ proposed setting page and time limits to complete the review process. It also sought to limit what reviews could consider including climate change.

University of Wyoming law professor and NEPA expert Sam Kalen said that proposal was much broader than he anticipated.

"Even though it undermined aspects of the Act [NEPA], it nevertheless accepted the statute even though it would get rid of some of the policy language." He said, "this proposal, if it were to come to fruition, really is a broad scale attack on the act itself, on NEPA, because it's really saying we don't care about the statute."

Shannon Anderson, staff attorney with landowner advocacy group Powder River Basin Resource Council, has been involved in litigation regarding NEPA compliance of land-use plans. She said it's critical to analyze impacts at a landscape level.

"For instance, impacts to wildlife species, habitat loss, impacts to public recreation, hunting access, and air quality, water drawdown from groundwater resources. All of those impacts are really landscape scale," she said, adding it's important the BLM has a process that doesn't cut out the public.

Pete Obermueller, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said it's premature to make any judgments on the regulation given there's so little information.

"Some advocacy groups... it helps them to say 'it's all gone.' But there's no proof of that until there's public comment. We don't know what they're talking about," he said.

Obermueller said there are flaws though with analyzing resource management plans (RMP), particularly with how much time they take. He mentioned the ongoing RMP in Rock Springs which has taken nearly a decade to finish.

"I do definitely support, in this and all things government, that we take a look at how the process looks without overreacting at the outset," he said.

The BLM contacted the Governor's Office in Wyoming about the proposed changes. Though Michael Pearlman, communications director for the Governor, said it was for exploratory purposes.

"These are sometimes things that never come out or are in the earliest phases. It wasn't like they were specifically looking for our state to provide them guidance," he said, adding they were never asked for a position and don't have one.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Cooper McKim, at cmckim5@uwyo.edu.

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.
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