Does the Forest Service Have a New Administration Temporary Moratorium? If So, on What?

Does someone’s desk look like this?

Bloomburg news had this interesting story about APD’s (applications for permits to drill on previously purchased leases) being approved without political oversight.

“Approximately 70 permits were approved without proper review following the issuance of a department directive that temporarily elevates review of permitting activities,” said Interior spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz. “Operators have been notified that those applications for permits to drill must be resubmitted for appropriate and timely review. Interior continues to approve permits and will transmit final decisions as soon as possible.”

The approvals were invalid under the Interior Department’s Jan. 20 secretarial order requiring agency brass to authorize drilling permits, easements, hiring and other decisions, according to a notification letter seen by Bloomberg News.

Companies also are being assured they do not face penalties for any drilling or other activities they started under the invalidated permits, though they are being ordered to cease those operations while seeking new approvals.

If I’d worked on processing those APD’s I’d find that a bit demoralizing. Maybe that’s just me. Or if I were a company told to start one day and stop a few days later. I had to do that once with research grants (call and tell the people whom I had told they had gotten grants that they weren’t really getting them after all). I left that agency shortly after.

So I looked at the Secretarial Order of January 20, 2021.

Suspension of Authority.
The delegations of authority to Department Bureaus and Offices to take any of the following actions are hereby temporarily suspended, but may be approved by leadership identified in Section 4 of this Order:
a. To publish, cause to be published, or aid in the publication ofany notice in the Federal Register, including, but not limited to, notices of proposed or final agency action and actions taken in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act:
b. To issue, revise, or amend Resource Management Plans under the authority of Section 202 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act as amended;
c. To grant rights of way. easements. or any conveyances of property or interests in property, including land sales or exchanges, or any notices to proceed under previous surface use authorizations that will authorize ground-disturbing activities;
d. To approve plans of operation, or to amend existing plans of operation under the General Mining Law of 1872; e. To issue any final decision with respect to R.S. 2477 claims, including recordable disclaimers of interest;
f. To appoint, hire, or promote personnel. or approve the appointment of any personnel. assigned to a position at or above the level of GS 13, but this does not apply to seasonal hires or emergency work force personnel:
g. To issue any onshore or offshore fossil fuel authorization, including but not limited to a lease, amendment to a lease, affirmative extension of a lease, contract, or other agreement, or permit to drill. This does not limit existing operations under valid leases. It also does not apply to authorizations necessary to: (1) avoid conditions that might pose a threat to human health, welfare, or safety; or (2) to avoid adverse impacts to public land or mineral resources.

These mostly sound a bit like business as usual for a new Admin, depending on how long “temporary” is.. usually Administrations realize that the multitudinous grinding gears of large bureaucracies are difficult to watch all the time, and some kind of trust in employees in general to follow the regulations develops. I did flinch a bit at the “GS-13s and above” moratorium. It isn’t clear whether it’s to check “do we really need this job?” or “do we approve of this person?”. The former would be understandable, the latter a little creepy.

Does anyone know if the Forest Service or USDA in general has the same kind of moratorium and what it might entail? Hopefully not, as the trust and working relationships of many folks involved in the Biden Admin would hold over from four years ago.

4 thoughts on “Does the Forest Service Have a New Administration Temporary Moratorium? If So, on What?”

  1. Sharon:

    The acting USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment issued a directive on Feb. 1 that reads as follows:

    United States Department of Agriculture
    Office of the Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment
    Washington, D.C. 20250

    TO: Victoria Christiansen, Chief, USDA Forest Service

    FROM: Chris French, Acting Deputy Under Secretary

    DATE: February 01, 2021

    SUBJECT: Instructions for Agency Action Reviews

    Pursuant to 7 CFR §§ 2.7 and 2.12, this memorandum issues instructions by the Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) for conducting a review of certain pending programmatic and project land management decisions. This review will afford an opportunity to assess applicable facts, law and policy in order to ensure that agency actions are aligned with Administration priorities as identified in recent Executive Orders and assist the Forest Service in fulfilling its multiple-use, sustained-yield mission in its stewardship of the National Forest System.

    The Forest Service shall submit for NRE’s review all projects and activities that fall within the categories set out below by February 12, 2021. Consistent with applicable law, and subject to any exception expressly authorized by NRE, the Forest Service will defer making any final decision regarding the actions listed below until NRE has reviewed the decision and authorized the agency to proceed with decision-making.

    These instructions are applicable to the classes of plans, projects and activities listed below for which the Forest Service expects or intends to make a decision prior to March 31, 2021:

    • Activities in designated wilderness areas taken pursuant to Sections 4(c) and 4(d) of the Wilderness Act.

    • Road construction, road reconstruction and timber harvesting activities on lands originally designated pursuant to 36 CFR 294, subpart B (2001) as well as any roadless lands designated in a subsequent roadless rulemaking.

    • Special Use Authorizations (and any Forest Plan amendments) involving new construction or expansion of infrastructure for conventional energy production, including pipelines or transmission lines.

    • New, modified, or expanded locatable or leasable minerals activities involving ground disturbance on greater than 500 acres.

    • Activities involving cutting or removal of more than 3,000 acres of vegetation that will be categorically excluded from documentation in an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement.

    • Final decisions for revisions or significant amendments of Land Management Plans.

    Agency actions should be submitted for review in summary form with a brief description of the purpose and need, the intended selected action, significant effects to natural or social resources, and public involvement including with State, local and Tribal governments, and status of any objection process underway. The summary should include any legal or administrative timelines, including those associated with permit renewal.

    The Acting Deputy Undersecretary may issue further instructions that supersede these instructions, in whole or in part, and may extend the review period timeframe as deemed necessary or appropriate.

    I can send you the PDF if you want to see it.


Leave a Comment

Discover more from The Smokey Wire : National Forest News and Views

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading