Proposed Rule Would Imperil North Fork Valley Headwaters
Paonia, September 1, 2020 — The Trump Administration released its plan to make it easier for companies to drill for oil and gas on U.S. Forest Service lands, such as in our own Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests.
The proposed rule would cut the public out of the process that decides whether and which lands will be opened to oil and gas drilling, and reduce the Forest Service’s role in leasing decisions as well. By adopting this dramatic departure from its long-standing role, the Forest Service would give away its right to serve as a check on leasing in those places that deserve protections.
“Our national forest lands protect the watershed of the North Fork Valley, and to increase leasing and drilling there is unthinkable to our local communities. We rely on clean water as the cornerstone of our local economy of farmers, ranchers and growers.” said Scott Braden, the interim executive director of the Western Slope Conservation Center. He added, “as the effects of a warming climate ratchet down on us in this summer of wildfires, drought, and extreme heat, the last thing we need to do is further damage our headwaters in exchange for more fossil fuels. This is yet another example of the ‘energy dominance’ agenda harming the communities of North Fork.”
Specifically, the rule would:
- Reduce public input and transparency by removing the requirement that a Forest Service office give public notice of the decision to approve a Surface Use Plan of Operations, the specific plan for development.
- Allow the Forest Service to skip important and necessary environmental reviews for leasing decisions. This, together with other administration roll backs of NEPA regulations, undermines that law’s role in good forest management.
- Make it more difficult for the Forest Service to stop bad lease sales by removing explicit confirmation of USFS consent as a standard step in the leasing process, and limiting the USFS to only protect certain specific resources.
- Loosen the rules by giving developers unbounded discretion to extend deadlines and comply with operating standards. Currently, compliance deadlines can only be extended if the operator cannot meet them due to factors out of their control.