Texas congressional delegation wants federal oil & gas leasing to fire up in the state

From the Forest Service scoping notice:

The National Forests and Grasslands in Texas (NFGT) is initiating the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS). The EIS will analyze and disclose the effects of identifying areas as available or unavailable for new oil and gas leasing. The proposed action identifies the following elements: What lands will be made available for future oil and gas leasing; what stipulations will be applied to lands available for future oil and gas leasing, and if there would be any plan amendments to the 1996 NFGT Revised Land and Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan).

The Forest Service withdrew its consent to lease NFGT lands from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for oil and gas development in 2016. The reason for the withdrawal of consent was due to stakeholder concerns, including insufficient public notification, insufficient opportunity for public involvement, and insufficient environmental analysis. There is a need to analyze the impacts of new oil and gas development technologies on surface and subsurface water and geologic resources; air resources; fish and wildlife resources; fragile and rare ecosystems; threatened and endangered species; and invasive plant management. There is also a need to examine changed conditions since the Forest Plan was published.

These leasing availability decisions are forest plan decisions that were most recently made in 1996.  The action proposed by the Forest Service would result in changes in the stipulations and would therefore require a forest plan amendment.  The changes would shift about 11,000 acres from “controlled surface use” to “no surface occupancy,” and remove timing limitations from about 35,000 acres.

A letter from five Republican members of the delegation disagrees with the premise that the 1996 analysis was inadequate, and is unhappy with the pace of the amendment process.

The published timeline anticipated a Draft EIS in the winter of 2019 with the Final EIS expected in the fall of 2020. We are concerned that this timeline is no longer achievable given current pace of progress.

We request that USFS end the informal comment period, issue a Draft EIS this spring and ultimately approve the Final EIS that reinstates BLM’s ability to offer public competitive leases of National Forest and Grasslands in Texas for oil and gas leases before the end of 2020. While USFS is required by law to respond to eligible comments received within the public comment window (CFR218.12), the Forest Supervisor also has the authority to declare the available science sound, conclude the public comment period, and proceed with the issuance of the scoping comments and alternative development workshops as the next steps ahead of a Draft EIS (CFR219.2.3, 219.3) (sic).

That last sentence got my attention as the kind of congressional attention to Forest Service decision-making that might cause them to cut a legal corner here or there (especially when there is an election coming).  I also noticed the absence of any reference to the new requirements for amendments, and maybe the delay could have something to do with this becoming evident to them as a result of scoping.  36 CFR §219.13(b)(6):

For an amendment to a plan developed or revised under a prior planning regulation, if species of conservation concern (SCC) have not been identified for the plan area and if scoping or NEPA effects analysis for the proposed amendment reveals substantial adverse impacts to a specific species, or if the proposed amendment would substantially lessen protections for a specific species, the responsible official must determine whether such species is a potential SCC, and if so, apply section §219.9(b) with respect to that species as if it were an SCC.

I found nothing in the EIS for the 1996 revision about effects of oil & gas development on at-risk wildlife species.  You’d think the new information since 1996 might have something to do with effects on climate change, too.

13 thoughts on “Texas congressional delegation wants federal oil & gas leasing to fire up in the state”

  1. I got involved in this issue a few weeks ago when a friend asked about “why did the FS suddenly remove any reference to effects on greenhouse gases” from the original notice that went out? I got a line of complete and total BS from the “acting Deputy Chief for National Forests” at that time. He wouldn’t answer whether he had the reference removed on his own or whether he was directed to by higher ups… I think we all know that fracking contributes directly to increased release of greenhouse gases, and the FS stated this would be analyzed as part of their review. But then “poof” it disappears in the “final and official” Federal Register submittal.

    • Jim, I’m not sure it’s that person’s (Acting Deputy Chief) job to tell us directly exactly, quotably, who exactly directed them to do it. That is what the rumor mill and back room discussions are for.
      Realistically speaking, this one is a bit late in the Administration’s term for anything to happen.

  2. I think it’s quite reasonable to expect a senior official to take responsibility for a personal decision to remove language from a Fed Reg notice and then re-issue it. Or admit that it was decided from above.

    • Well, I guess we can agree to disagree on that. Personally, I don’t care who did it.
      When it gets litigated (and no doubt it will), someone will go through the emails and probably figure it out.

    • I agree with you, Jim, and knowing who the acting Deputy Chief likely is, I am not surprised that you received the line of BS that you did.

      One of my sobering thoughts as I retired last year from the FS was how integrity had diminished from FS leaders over my career. Perhaps it is only my perception that FS leaders were less principled and less willing to stand for something (regardless of circumstances), but I also discovered that I was not the only one who thought/observed this. I guess we are finally seeing the outcome of having the FS Chief be a political appointee. That action has a “trickle down” effect to lower-level leaders, as you recently experienced.

        • Jack Ward Thomas, under the Clinton Administration…but, keep in mind my reference…in the late 80s, I had been employed by the FS for only a few years and I was minimally aware of how the Chief was selected when Jack was named Chief. After that, the selection process was (and still is) much more partisan.

  3. Partisan yes, political no. JWT was a political appointee because that was the only way they could make him Chief. He begged to go to Senior Exec Service; didn’t happen. But Clinton did push Humpty Dumpty off the wall. There is a reason why almost all agencies are led by political appointees (and almost all their immediate staff). FS integrity and independence have been diminished. It’s worth noting that both D and R long-tenured western senators in the timber heyday supporting heavy logging of NFs, in the days when seniority mattered. Getting the cut out was good business in any administration.

    • Another interesting thing about that transition was that Lyons didn’t seem to think too much of career people (or anyway said so in my hearing at an alumni gathering when he started his position). JWT, to my mind, had lots of integrity and independence, but in the end that may have led to not being suppliant enough to Jim’s wishes, hence Dombeck.

      Of course, politicals want career folks who will carry out what they want, and who are their buds and buds with their buds, if possible, and whom they can trust. And have political savvy but not too much (so that they can effectively play their own political games). And generally someone who has street cred in the organization. That’s where I think JWT and Mike were outside the NRV. For me as an R&D person it was great to have a researcher be Chief, but others were not so open. I’ll never forget some of those Chief and Staff meetings with JWT.

      Given all that, I’m still interested in what “integrity” and “indpendence” look like to you, Jim and Tony.

  4. I’d also like to get clarification of what “political appointee” means. Forest Service chiefs continue to be drawn from career employees, unlike BLM. I remember that JWT was considered ground-breaking at the time, but don’t really remember why.

    Regardless, I think Jim nailed what has changed. There used to be only one “side” with the Forest Service – getting the cut out. Now that there are two, politics is going to come into play when selecting agency leaders (and in public messaging), and those who don’t like that, or who like the other side, may see this as loss of integrity or independence.

    • Jim Furnish mentioned it- but JWT was ground-breaking because technically he was appointed as a political appointee because he hadn’t been through SES training and I don’t think Jim Lyons or others (?) wanted to wait until that could be accomplished. In my mind it was a technicality, but to some it was more than that. JWT was also from R&D which raised some hackles also. But I’m sure there were hackles raised when an engineer became Chief (Max Peterson), and a woman, and so on. We don’t (yet?) have a metric for hackle-raising, so I’m not sure that we can compare…

  5. It’s worth noting that in the run up to JWT’s appointment, ALMOST ALL forest supervisors in the US signed a letter (I did not) to Pres Clinton “throwing down the gantlet” about a political appointee – don’t do it (implied “or else”). Immediately after JWT became Chief, I proposed to other supervisors in OR/WA, and further, ALL of US, that we 125 “leaders” bury the hatchet and immediately send a letter of support to “OUR New Chief” that we were all behind him, devoted to his success. You know what happened. NOTHING. Idea died for lack of interest. That says a lot about FS culture. In spite of Dombeck’s long history with FS before going to BLM, and his subsequent appointment as a “career professional” SES’er, he was labeled as a political appointee by — you guessed it — same guys who signed Clinton letter.

    FWIW: In my opinion, Mike Dombeck was an independent person, with abundant integrity. Also had a wise political temperament in the realm of “what’s possible”; what to do and how to achieve it. He was chosen because Clinton (and Lyons obviously) believed he would deliver the goods on a progressive, and long-delayed, environmental agenda. He did so.


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