5 crazy ways the House is pushing extreme drilling on public lands

Mason Cummings, TWS

Key takeaways:

  • A House committee is slated to approve a slate of bills to speed harmful drilling on public lands June 27th.
  • Pro-drilling politicians are trying to rig the system to make oil and gas drilling the main use of our public lands, and they are threatening to silence and punish anyone who objects.
  • These bills being considered would sellout our public lands, fining states and citizens that are opposed to destructive drilling, and eliminate safety requirements that protect our health and environment.
  • This recklessly encourages expansion of drilling on our public lands by incentivizing drilling at all costs, even tying more drilling to school funding, essentially selling out our children’s health and robbing them of wild places – all to justify more drilling.

While the House Natural Resources Committee should be safeguarding our shared resources and providing oversight of the Trump administration’s actions, a host of new legislation being considered by the committee would hasten the sellout of our public lands by penalizing states and citizens who don’t want to see drilling dominate our land and coasts and relaxing or eliminating safety requirements that protect our health and environment. (For a breakdown of the bills and their status, scroll to the bottom of this post). Four bills are expected to pass the committee on a largely party-line vote in a markup on June 27th.

They're right in line with the Trump Administration, which in the last 18 months have put more federal land on the auction block for drilling than ever before. Last year the U.S. government offered up 11.8 million acres of American’s public lands and parks for drilling, that’s an area the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. To hasten the process for drillers, the Trump environmental wrecking crew and their allies in the House are also dismantling vital protections for our air, land and water.

Here's five of the worst ideas being considered by the House Natural Resources Committee

  1. Muzzling conservation voices 

HR 6087 introduced by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) would require citizens and groups like The Wilderness Society to pay a fee for filing protests opposing problematic oil and gas leasing. The protest process is an important tool for citizens to weigh in on projects that could jeopardize endangered species, water and air quality or other threats – given the technical and in depth nature of this process, the per page fee proposed in this bill could cost thousands of dollars per submission.  If this were to be law, the Wilderness Society would have had to pay more than $15,000 dollars already during the Trump administration to protest reckless drilling proposals.

And get this: oil and gas companies don’t have to pay a fee for formally expressing interest in these very same parcels.

  1. Rigging the system to benefit polluters

Rep. Steve Pearce from New Mexico introduced HR 6106 and HR 6107 which would tie the hands of federal regulators by limiting their ability to review projects for environmental, safety or public health impacts. Instead of providing regulators the discretion to exclude some projects from review, when warranted, HR 6106 would prohibit Bureau of Land Management employees from taking a closer look at several categories of oil and gas projects – including miles of roads and pipelines – regardless of the impacts they may have.  Leaving the public entirely in the dark about the damage that projects are doing to our public lands all to reward the oil and gas industry – the biggest contributor to Rep. Pearce’s political career, donating over $2 million to his congressional campaigns.

Rep. Pearce’s other bill, HR 6107, would also similarly bar federal regulators from reviewing certain oil and gas projects regardless of impact.  The bill proposes exempting any projects which tap less than 50 precent of federal mineral resources as long as the surface is owned by another party.

  1. Handing out drilling permits as fast as possible

HR 6088 by Rep. Curtis (R-UT) would create a new program for drilling permits on many public lands, called a Notice of Permit to Drill.  Essentially, after its been filed, all a company has to do is wait 45 days and unless the Secretary personally objects the company can proceed with drilling, without a site inspection, or environmental review.  This would make the drilling permitting process a purely perfunctory process eliminating nearly all scrutiny of public health, safety or environmental impacts of a drill site.

  1. Selling out our children’s health and robbing them of their wild places in the name of education funding

HR 5859 by Scott Tipton (R-CO) would fund school education programs, a laudable goal, but there's a big catch. It happens only when public lands are sold out to oil companies for drilling, accompanied by environmental rollbacks that protect kids' health.  In a time when this Administration and the House Natural Resources Committee is doing all it can to open some of our most sensitive lands and waters to drilling while rolling back common-sense safeguards that protect our children’s health (like the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane Rule), this bill creates a false choice between selling out our children’s health and funding their education. We can, and should, adequately fund our children’s education without robbing them of a healthy environment, clean air to breathe, and wild public lands to explore.

  1. Penalizing states that oppose drilling off their coasts and handing over public lands to states to drill - including in Bears Ears National Monument – or else

As if all this wouldn't be awful enough, House Republicans have cooked up a plan to let states take over the sellout of federal public lands to oil and gas drilling. Euphemistically titled the “Enhancing State Management of Federal Lands and Waters,” you'd be closer to the truth by imagining a mob protection payment scheme where the feds are the mob, and states have to pay up, or else. 

Under the plan, states to apply to manage an unlimited number of acres of federal lands within their borders – exempting oil and gas projects from federal environmental protections and putting states in charge of all permitting and regulation of projects. 

Once a state opts in, it's hooked in perpetuity and forced to keep drilling these lands at an ever increasing pace. States that drill more lands than in past years are rewarded while states that are more judicious get penalized or have management stripped from them. Under this scenario, the state of Utah could push drilling in the two million acres of land illegally eliminated from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments. And because they think drilling doesn't need to stop at a state's coast, it penalizes states that oppose drilling offshore. States that object to too many leases off their coasts could be charged a penalty that could potentially reach billions or even trillions of dollars over the course of ten years. 

To round out the mob metaphor, states that stay quiet and go along with the program would be rewarded with bigger shares of the royalty payments. As for the American people who actually own these lands - fuggedaboutit.  

STATUS of these bills as of June 26th:

  • The “Enhancing State Management of Federal Lands and Waters” proposal was heard in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on June 14, 2018.
  • HR 5859, 6087, 6088, and 6107 will be marked up in the House Natural Resources Committee on June 27, 2018.
  • HR 6106 passed the House Natural Resources Committee on June 6, 2018 and now awaits a vote in front of the entire House of Representatives.