As I See It

Hal Sundin

The Bush Administration’s energy policy can be described in three words – drill, drill, drill. This should come as no surprise. After all, both the president and vice president grew wealthy in the oil and gas business; half of the administration’s top appointees had close ties to the energy industry; and Vice President Cheney’s energy policy committee was made up almost exclusively of his drilling industry cronies.

The goal of Bush’s energy policy is to steamroller a red carpet through the nation’s public lands for the sole benefit of the drilling industry, and as if that isn’t enough, the Bush Administration plans to subsidize the industry with tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars.

In poll after poll, the citizens of this country have responded with a clear voice that they value public lands for their wildlife and scenic and recreational values. Both President Bush and Representative Scott McInnis have stated in no uncertain terms that government should not impose itself over the wishes of the people. But whenever public opinion does not support the will of the administration, this administration runs roughshod over the public. It is proposing that Forest Service decisions, made with public input and scientific review that would protect sensitive forest lands from the harmful effects of oil and gas drilling, can be pre-empted by directives from top Agriculture Department officials in Washington.

It used to be that environmental policy required that the impact of drilling on wildlife and the environment had to be carefully evaluated, and if proposed mitigation measures were not adequate, the drilling permit would be denied. Now the situation has been reversed. The new policy is that if wildlife issues would have “any adverse effects on energy supply, distribution or use,” it is the wildlife that has to give way.

The sole objective of the administration’s energy policy seems to be to drill in as much of the public domain as possible as quickly as possible. The administration is achieving that objective by executive order and agency directives setting aside environmental regulations and suppressing public involvement in the permit process. Federal agencies are under orders to hurry up their permit reviews, and to do whatever is necessary “to accelerate the completion of such projects.” Field offices which do so receive an Award of Excellence.

It is plain that the public lands are now to be administered for the primary benefit of the drilling industry. The Department of Interior has set up a BLM Energy Office to coordinate agency activities with industry’s oil and gas development goals and to identify public lands that “warrant special attention.”

The focus of all of this activity is in the Rocky Mountain states of Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. In the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming the plan is to drill 77,000 coal bed methane wells on 4 million acres of BLM lands – one well for every 52 acres. The Interior Board of Land Appeals has ruled that many of these leases were illegal because in its zeal to issue them, the BLM had failed to consider coal bed methane impacts.

In the spectacular Red Desert of southern Wyoming, the BLM is being pushed to approve 4,000 coal bed methane wells on 300,000 acres of unspoiled scenic splendor and crucial winter range for elk, deer and antelope. Utah State BLM staff has been ordered to shelve wilderness reviews and the Resource Management Plan currently in progress, and to make issuing new drilling permits their highest priority. As a result, the Utah BLM is currently offering drilling leases in 12 proposed Wilderness Areas.

And here in Colorado, right in our backyard, the BLM is being pressured to support the oil and gas industry’s desire to drill on the Roan Plateau, just as it has all over the lands on both sides of Interstate 70 west of Rifle. Is this what we want to happen?

The end result of this massive rush to drill on enormous tracts of public lands will be to turn these wonderful wildlife havens and scenic recreation areas into sacrifice zones of drilling rigs, roads, reservoirs and pipelines, disturbed by constant truck traffic and the roar of compressors, pumps and generators.

If you want better than this, tell our Representative, Scott McInnis, and our Senators, Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Better yet, since they probably won’t pay much attention, vote for someone who will.

Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.

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