Not so CX-y now

 

A 2008 lawsuit filed to protect Utah petroglyphs from oil and gas drilling has just been resolved -- and the settlement has big implications for the West's public lands. Announced Wednesday, the decision means that the Bureau of Land Management can no longer fast-track energy development in cases where there are "extraordinary circumstances" -- environmental, cultural or historic resources, say, or the potential for significant cumulative harm to air quality -- unless it fully evaluates possible impacts on those resources.

At issue are "categorical exclusions" -- or CXs -- which are provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 designed to streamline permitting for relatively harmless, small-scale oil and gas projects, like a single new gas well on an existing well-pad, under the umbrella of an existing environmental study.

Under federal regulations that predate the Energy Act, categorical exclusions can be used to avoid extra environmental review unless “extraordinary circumstances” exist. But because the oil and gas CXs were spelled out in a law, Bush's BLM told its staff they need not worry about those regulations when permitting projects. Last fall an internal government investigation found that the BLM was using CXs a lot, accounting for nearly 30 percent of drilling permits issued from 2006 to 2008. (See our story "Is the BLM practicing unsafe CX?" for an analysis.)

A Government Accountability Office report last year criticized the BLM's "inappropriate" use of categorical exclusions, saying the agency's actions led to lawsuits, end runs around environmental laws and dirty air in Vernal. (from the Salt Lake Tribune)

Meanwhile, in Wyoming, Shoshone National Forest officials just announced that they were abandoning their plan to use a fast-track CX for what environmentalists say would be the only functioning oil well inside the nation's first national forest, according to a Casper Star-Tribune report. Instead, they'll do a more thorough analysis of impacts:

(Wind River District Ranger Rick Metzger) said Forest Service officials decided to prepare the environmental assessment to "ensure" the issues and concerns brought forward during the scoping period and at an early February meeting were fully analyzed.

Wyoming Outdoor Council spokeswoman Lisa McGee called the decision "a step in the right direction." She said the scenic and recreational values of the area warrant the higher level of environmental review.

It appears that the Obama administration is indeed taking a more careful approach to developing oil and gas in the West. And not surprisingly, that's making some Republican politicians unhappy. The Deseret News quotes Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah:

"I find it outrageous and cynical that on the same day the president is attempting to persuade Americans that he is supportive of new oil and gas development, a secret deal is announced," that the congressman asserts guts one of the "streamlining" provisions of the Energy Policy Act.


High Country News Classifieds
  • UNIQUE, ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME ON ACREAGE NEAR MOSCOW, IDAHO
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
  • OUTDOOR ADVENTURE BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
  • OJO SARCO FARM/HOME
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
  • 2022 SEASONAL SCIENCE EDUCATOR
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
  • POLICY DIRECTOR
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST - LAND PROTECTION FOCUS
    View full job description and how to apply at
  • RIVER EDUCATOR & GUIDE
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • FOOD SYSTEMS ENVIRONMENTAL FELLOWSHIP
    If you were to design a sustainable society from the ground up, it would look nothing like the contemporary United States. But what would it...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is seeking an Executive Director who will lead RiGHT toward a future of continued high conservation impact, organizational...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the world a better place!...
  • VERDE RIVER PROJECTS TECHNICIAN
    The Verde River Projects Technician (VRPT) provides technical assistance to Verde River Program staff in implementation of the Verde River Streamflow Monitoring Protocol. This consist...
  • 8 FIELD PROJECT SPECIALISTS (POSITION FORMERLY TITLED TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISOR)
    Are you passionate about environmental conservation and connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with outdoor leadership...
  • SOUTHWEST REWILDING ADVOCATE
    WildEarth Guardians is seeking a full-time advocate in our Wild Places Program to advance a new paradigm of forest management and protection based on the...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
  • CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...