Leaked documents show Trump administration plans more mining and drilling on public lands

The Trump administration looks to “streamline” the fossil fuel extraction process.

An endangered desert tortoise in the eastern Mojave Desert several miles from an old mining and railroad townsite called Ivanpah, Calif. It is not on BLM’s new priorities list. CREDIT: AP Photo/Reed Saxon
An endangered desert tortoise in the eastern Mojave Desert several miles from an old mining and railroad townsite called Ivanpah, Calif. It is not on BLM’s new priorities list. CREDIT: AP Photo/Reed Saxon

A leaked document says that extracting coal, oil, and natural gas from public lands will be the top priorities for the Bureau of Land Management under President Donald Trump, a sharp reversal from the previous administration.

The five-page list of “BLM priority work,” reported by E&E News, begins with a page on “Making America safe through energy independence” — which the administration says means opening up more land for energy development.

“It is extremely disappointing that in their first 100 days, the Trump administration has made it clear that they are going to rig the system in favor of Big Oil companies at the expense of Western stakeholders and local leaders who wish to craft smart and balanced forms of energy development on our public lands,” Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project, a western conservation group, said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress.

The priorities document and its accompanying communication guidance calls on the agency to streamline oil, gas, and coal leasing and permitting and to streamline pipeline, transmission, and solar and wind projects. The document also has priorities for conservation, military and law enforcement activities, bureaucratic efficiencies, and “serving the American family.”

BLM was in the news last week, as well, after it replaced a picture of a child and an adult at a park with a picture of coal as the lead image on its website.

Saeger called the memo a “not-so-subtle wink” at Big Oil and “confirmation that we have indeed returned to the days of “Drill Baby Drill,” when lawsuits and conflict ruled the day on Western public lands.”

A spokesperson for the agency told E&E News that the list was “assembled by the team at BLM to clearly lay out our continued commitment to ensure opportunities for commercial, recreation and conservation activities on BLM-managed lands.” BLM, part of the Department of the Interior, is responsible for overseeing 261 million acres of public lands.

The new priorities reflect what Trump emphasized repeatedly during his campaign: That the United States should drill and mine more public lands. Trump has also been aggressively supportive of the coal industry and has praised natural gas. So far, under the Trump administration, the Department of the Interior has rescinded a rule that would have ensured taxpayers are fairly compensated for coal mined on public lands, and Secretary Ryan Zinke has said that there is “no such thing” as clean energy.

Trump has also emphasized efficiency and downsizing the government. In the BLM priorities document, streamlining is mentioned seven times, mostly for fossil fuels, but also to “streamline NEPA processes to achieve efficiencies and decrease time to completion.” NEPA — the National Environmental Policy Act — includes the federal standards for environmental review. Environmental impact statements, which are developed under NEPA, are one of the cornerstones of environmental policy in the United States, allowing the public to learn about and comment on large-scale projects.

The Obama administration also took steps to streamline NEPA at the Department of the Interior, largely in order to more rapidly approve renewable energy projects, Law360 reported. Obama also signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) in 2015 to improve NEPA review — that time for infrastructure, energy, and manufacturing projects.

Overall, though, the leaked document shows a dramatic change in direction for the agency. The conservation page, for instance, does not include references to national monuments or wilderness lands —instead leading with a priority to “achieve appropriate management levels for the Wild Horse and Burro Program.” The page on “restoring our sovereignty” does not mention any tribal considerations. Instead, it focuses on several areas of law enforcement and military defense.

The document names Operation Reclaim our Arizona Monuments (ROAM), a multi-agency effort to patrol the Arizona border, and “Southern Border actions” as priorities. There are some 20 million acres of public land along the United States’ border with Mexico, where Trump has promised to put a wall.