Diane R. Miller: Energy dominance and public lands
In Colorado and much of the American West, public lands lie at the core of our communities, our economy, our shared values and who we are as a people.
However, the current administration’s policy of “energy dominance” threatens these lands and diminishes the public’s ability to take part in decisions about how they are to be used. Rule changes this administration has made have had a chilling effect on citizen participation in land use planning and management.
For example, the Bureau of Land Management has greatly reduced, and in some cases eliminated, opportunities for public comment during the process of leasing of public lands for oil and gas extraction. Similarly, master leasing [pans, once a way for community and regional representatives to participate in land use planning before leasing to the oil industry occurs, have been discontinued.
In addition, the Charters for the BLM Resource Advisory Councils have also been drastically altered. Previously, RACs were tasked with representing their communities and advising the BLM on conservation, land use and management of oil and gas development. RACs have now been directed to fast track oil and gas permitting times and “enhance exploration and development of Federal onshore oil and gas resources.” Current and former RAC members decry these changes as obliterating the original spirit and intent of the charters and tipping the power balance to industry.
As a result of these and other changes, hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands across the West are being leased for oil and gas production with diminished public input and inadequate environmental assessment.
What can concerned citizens do? We can ask our congressional representatives to hold the current administration accountable for decisions that lessen or discount the public’s voice in land use decisions. We can publicly question the motives of elected officials who state that the new rules promote a more “balanced” approach to public land use or that they reduce “job-killing” regulations. We can verify whether these individuals have accepted large contributions from the oil and gas industry by searching at opensecrets.org and we can voice our concern at the polls.
On a local level, we can ask our county commissioners to openly share their views on oil and gas development on our public lands. The prospect of oil and gas development in Routt County is becoming more likely as the price of oil increases.
Last year, the oil and gas development rights for nearly 17,000 acres of land in Routt County were leased by the BLM, including areas of North Routt and a large section of South Routt that lies just west of Oak Creek and Phippsburg. New leases are currently being considered in the northwest part of the county and more are certain to be considered in the future.
Although county commissioners do not always have the ability to effect change in these leasing plans, if they do not question or seek to restrain leasing, it sets a tone for resource extraction moving forward and that process is far more likely to continue according to the wishes of industry.
During an era when the oil and gas industry has received a green light for unbridled energy extraction on our public lands, we citizens are tasked with making our voices heard and holding our elected officials accountable for respecting the concerns of their constituents and safeguarding the lands we cherish.
Diane R Miller
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