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.