Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve may soon see a fleet of new oil rigs (HCN, 1/20/03: Refuge back in the crosshairs). The Bureau of Land Management has just released its draft environmental impact statement for drilling in the reserve. Depending on which alternative the agency chooses, anywhere from 4.1 million to 8.8 million acres will be newly opened to oil and gas leasing. The public comment period is open until March 18.

Environmental laws are getting in the way of national security again — so the Pentagon is gearing up to ask Congress for more exemptions (HCN, 1/20/03: 84-year-old bird law no match for the military). In January, an internal Defense Department memo was leaked to the nonprofit watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The memo outlines the Pentagon’s plans to lobby Congress for exemptions from CERCLA (or Superfund), the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

Terry Lynn Barton, a former Forest Service employee, has pleaded guilty to both state and federal charges of arson for setting last summer’s 137,000-acre Hayman Fire in central Colorado (HCN, 7/8/02: The tail of a dragon?). Barton is expected to receive 18 years of prison time.

The Interior Department has decided that a coal-fired power plant near Yellowstone National Park will not have an "adverse effect" on the park after all (HCN, 9/2/02: Bush's energy push meets unintended consequences). At the end of 2002, the National Park Service recommended against the plant, citing concerns that it would ruin air quality in the park and two nearby wilderness areas. But in mid-January, an Interior official withdrew that recommendation, and, according to Park Service officials, went above their heads to give a green light to the plant.

Although the oil industry has claimed that most of the Rocky Mountain West is off-limits to oil and gas drilling, an Interior Department report has found otherwise (HCN, 9/2/02: Backlash). According to the report, which was ordered by former President Clinton in 2000, of 59 million acres of federal land in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Montana, 61 percent — or about 36 million acres — is open to energy leasing.