The Forest Service plans to submit a rule that would make it easier to explore oil and gas drilling, as well as mineral mining, in National Forests.
The Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees the Forest Service, is planning to revise the contents of the agency’s oil and gas resources regulations, according to one advance notice of proposed rule-making submitted to the Federal Register on Wednesday.
The new rule would aim to “streamline” procedural requirements for oil and gas leasing and extraction from the 154 national forests and 20 grasslands managed by the Forest Service. Oil and gas is currently being developed on 44 national forests and grasslands.
“It is in the national interest to promote clean and safe development of our Nation’s vast energy resources, while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation,” the rule notice reads.
The rule follows an earlier Trump executive order labelled: “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.” Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke similarly referenced the executive order in a previous announcement that the agency is looking to expand offshore drilling lease sales.
The USDA rule clearly states that by eliminating the regulatory burdens, fossil fuel extraction could be done more quickly.
“The intent of these potential changes would be to decrease permitting times by removing regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production. These potential changes would promote domestic oil and gas production by allowing industry to begin production more quickly,” the notice reads.
Also Wednesday, USDA submitted another advance rule notice on mineral extraction in Forest Service land that aims to make it easier to process requests to mine key minerals including gold, zinc and uranium.
The changes closely follows recommendations from a 1999 National Research Council report and 2016 Government Accountability Report that suggested ways to streamline communications across the agency.
“Increasing the consistency of the agencies’ procedures and rules would benefit persons who conduct locatable mineral operations on the public lands managed by the [Bureau of Land Management] as well as on National Forest System lands managed by the Forest Service,” the notice reads.
The aim of the change, according to the notice, is to increase mineral prospectors’ interests in mining on forest land.
“This change should enhance operators’ interest in, and willingness to, conduct exploratory operations on National Forest System lands and ultimately increase the production of critical minerals, consistent with both of these sections of the Executive Order,” the notice reads.
Republicans and administration officials have supported increased mineral extraction on public lands, arguing that U.S. could strengthen its reserves of key minerals — including the highly controversial uranium.
House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) wrote a letter to Zinke and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue last September urging them to consider expanding mineral extraction on public lands and national forests, writing, “Unfortunately, under the prior administration, mineral access on Federal land was regularly and systematically blocked, harming our nation’s economic and strategic potential.”
But environmentalists and conservationists have pushed back on the administration’s plans to make it easier to extract natural resources on federal lands.
Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, called the planned rule changes “appalling.”
“These appalling Trump administration proposals would ramp up fracking and mining damage to public lands and wildlife,” McKinnon said in a statement. “Our national forests matter more than private industry profits. But the Forest Service is abdicating its mission to protect these wild places to ram through whatever industries want. Both rules will meet fierce fights.”