The Wilderness Society appeals to Secretary of Interior to withdraw proposed oil shale plans |

The Wilderness Society appeals to Secretary of Interior to withdraw proposed oil shale plans

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” The Wilderness Society has asked the U.S. Department of the Interior to withdraw proposed plans that would open up about 360,000 acres in Colorado to possible oil shale development. The group made its request in a letter to Dirk Kempthorne, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, this week.

The group’s appeal largely stems

from concerns that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) hasn’t allowed the public a chance to protest or allow governors to perform a consistency review of a final programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) about potential oil shale and tar sands development in the American West.

That document, which was released in early September, includes changes to 12 resource management plans (RMPs) in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah that would open up about 2 million acres to oil shale production. The changes to the 12 RMPs are expected to be finalized in a soon-to-be-released record of decision.

Nada Culver, senior counsel for The Wilderness Society, said since those RMPs can be in place for decades, federal law ensures that when the BLM makes a final decision to alter those plans the public’s voice must be heard.

“The administration willingly sacrificed good governance in favor of using their last days in office to fork more public lands over to the oil and gas industry,” Culver said. “In this case, the BLM denied the public its basic right to protest land management plans that could affect their ways of life. Unfortunately, this denial also violates federal law.”

Asked whether the group might file a lawsuit over the matter, Culver said The Wilderness Society and other groups are “trying to figure what our opportunities might be to rectify this situation.”

A notice the BLM printed in the Federal Register when it released its final PEIS said that Stephen Allred, assistant U.S. Department of Interior secretary for land and minerals management, will make the final call on approval of the RMPs.

“This decision is not subject to administrative review (protest) under the BLM or departmental regulations,” the notice said.

In response to the Wilderness Society’s letter, the BLM issued a statement saying the Department of Interior approved the final PEIS in order to comply with a deadline laid out in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and that the process was consistent with the Federal Land Policy Management Act.

“As a result, the BLM protest period does not apply to the (final) PEIS,” the statement said. “In addition, the strategic importance of alternative energy resources, such as oil shale and tar sands, in enhancing the nation’s domestic energy supplies factored into the decision. The public was also afforded the opportunity to comment on the draft PEIS.”

The BLM issued that draft PEIS in December. The land use plans proposed in the earlier document are identical to the ones in final PEIS released in September.

The back-and-forth between the BLM and the Wilderness Society comes about a week after a moratorium that blocked the release of commercial oil shale regulations was lifted at the beginning of this month.

The completion of those regulations later this year, along with the expected record of decision that will open about 360,000 acres in Colorado to possible oil shale development, could open the door to a potential sale of federal oil shale leases in the state. However, BLM officials say that it could be years before any lease sale occurs.

Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117

Post Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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