E&E News on Implementation of BLM Rule- Doubling Down on Things People Were Wary Of

Many thanks to a TSW reader who supplied this Scott Streater story in E&E News, which is quite comprehensive.  In addition to an oligarchy vibe, I now get a “separation of powers” vibe about this regulation and its implementation.  It seems like kind of a sharp stick in the eye to the Governors and others who did not support these elements of the proposed rule; in fact, in Streater’s reporting, they “doubled down” on policies people disagreed with.  Feature or bug? I’m so not a politician.   Anyway, in the interests of fair use, I excerpted the two areas of most interest (to me). Feel free to excerpt other sections in the comments.

Stone-Manning and others promised the rule will be implemented in a deliberate fashion when it goes into effect on June 10. This will include a “preliminary suite of implementation guidance” developed by “interdisciplinary and intra-organizational teams” to help guide staff, said Brian St. George, BLM’s deputy assistant director of resources and planning.

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But Thursday’s webinar also provided key details about some of the policy and regulatory changes associated with the rule’s overarching goal to elevate conservation as a formal use of BLM lands, on par with energy development, mining, recreation and livestock grazing.

But let’s not forget that BLM “conservation” is not the same as USDA “conservation”.

And it underscored just how much work will be required. The webinar included a chart outlining the work of three “implementation teams” that will assist staff in executing key components of the rule, including conservation leasing, land health standards and the designation of “areas of critical environmental concern,” which the new rule makes an agency priority. For example, a “Restoration and Mitigation Team” has been working for months to develop procedures for one of the most contentious provisions in the rule — the creation of a restoration and mitigation leasing system that energy developers, mining companies and others will be able to use as as part of doing mitigation to offset project impacts on other lands.

I don’t know if this means “other” BLM lands, federal lands, or any lands.

The team is developing a “lease application worksheet” for staff, according to the slide, as well as instruction memorandums to field offices set to be issued soon detailing what project applications should be prioritized for restoration leasing.  Critics have argued that environmental groups, among others, could purchase the leases and lock up public lands from energy development and mining for years. While the rule allows for nongovernmental groups to buy these leases and pay to conduct restoration work on the land, this should not be interpreted by staff as conveying “exclusive rights to the use of the public lands” under a 10-year lease, said Deblyn Mead, a BLM national mitigation specialist.

I just don’t get it.  If they are paying for good things to happen, and that doesn’t preclude other things from happening, then they don’t really need leases.  I don’t see that the BLM has had trouble administering outside money to do good things, while maintaining the option of allowing other things on site.

What’s more, criticism by congressional Republicans that private entities or individuals associated with “foreign adversaries” such as Russia could purchase a restoration or mitigation lease is unfounded, said Mark Ames, a BLM realty specialist. “Foreign persons may not be granted a restoration lease,” Ames said.

I don’t want to be overly skeptical here, but when organizations, including “conservation groups” aren’t required to show who is funding them (as in the various c3s and c4s I’ve been following) how is anyone to know? Take Hans Wyss for example; for sure, Switzerland is not Russia, but he is a foreign national who seems to be funding many some ENGO’s.

Temporary ACEC protections

BLM doubled down on a potentially contentious aspect of the rule that would allow the agency to implement “temporary management” procedures for some parcels nominated for designation as areas of critical environmental concern, or ACECs, that would block energy development and other uses on sensitive rangelands, potentially for years at a time.

Brenda Lincoln-Wojtanik, a senior planning and environmental analyst, outlined to staff the process of applying these temporary measures to nominated parcels. BLM state directors are authorized under federal law to implement these temporary management measures on nominated parcels, with few restrictions. Directors can take this step before parcels go through the lengthy land-use revision process required before the designation of an ACEC — which are managed primarily to protect their environmental, cultural, historic or scientific values, restricting activities that conflict with that priority.

To qualify for these temporary management measures, the nominated parcels must be determined to have “relevant and important values,” and that “special management attention” is needed to protect the resource values.

As a former bureaucratic writer, I could probably write such such a rationalization for any BLM acre as requested :).

The Information Bulletin sent to staff late Thursday says the new rule establishes “a presumption” that all potential ACECs that meet these three requirements “will be designated” as such. It also includes a chart stating that BLM staff should “immediately” begin to consider ACEC nominations “and implement interim management as appropriate.”
The temporary management measures would be lifted once BLM makes a determination about the ACEC as part of a larger resource management plan (RMP).
But some land-use plans can wait decades to be revised.

I don’t get it, I thought this Admin was all about NEPA, public involvement and addressing the views of marginalized communities (which RMPs do and this does not). Another idea, if RMPs are too hard to do.. maybe change those regs?  Ask Congress for help amending the statute? I don’t actually see “three” requirements in the story, I just see “values” and “attention”??

House Natural Resources Chair Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) highlighted this aspect of the rule on the House floor last month prior to the approval of H.R. 3397, which would require BLM to withdraw the rule. Even though this has been used by BLM only a handful of times in the past 25 years,  it’s an option that the bureau may use more frequently now. “If we decide that we’re going to evaluate that nomination and we find that it meets all three criteria, we are required then to protect those values” through temporarily protective measures, or the start of a new resource management process to evaluate the ACEC nomination, Lincoln-Wojtanik said.

In addition to vibes of oligarchy, separation of powers issues, I get a strong vibe of hornswogglery with this one.

9 thoughts on “E&E News on Implementation of BLM Rule- Doubling Down on Things People Were Wary Of”

  1. When Stone-Manning was nominated, I expressed my misgivings about her. Her tendency is to hide behind policy or regulation and say her hands are tied. She is typically active to created the policies or regulations in the first place. I’ll state once again, she was not a friend to recreation folks in any of her Montana job positions. Now she continues to pad her legacy!

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    • To be fair to Director Stone-Manning it seems like perhaps it’s a Center for American Progress idea.
      According to them.. “Among other measures, the Public Lands Rule would unlock an innovative tool—called conservation leasing—that could be utilized by clean energy companies to build projects more quickly and with better outcomes for lands, waters, and wildlife.”
      I detect more hornswogglery; “build projects more quickly”? With more paperwork involved? Shifting rationales remind me of my “deregulate electricity” story, or “warning, ideologues in the area.”

      Of course Wall Street folks donate to CAP, and there was the SEC proposal for NACS we discussed here.
      “CAP receives large donations from Wall Street, including at least $50,000 from both Bank of America and Goldman Sachs as well as at least $100,000 from Citigroup and Blackstone.” But most seems to come from big philanthropies. https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/center-for-american-progress-cap/

      What could go wrong? Giving corporations and unknown entities from unknown countries preferential access to federal lands under the name of “conservation” in a non-transparent way.

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      • I’m suspicious of conservation leasing, because of potential to impact recreation access. But I’m most fearful of increased use of ACECs, which are already mismanaged, effectively creating defacto wilderness, and blocking recreation access in perpetuity. The agency seems to lack any mechanism to reevaluate an ACEC periodically. They tend, through employee attrition, to lose knowledge of each ACECs purpose. They simply become untouchable land. I’m sure Tracy loves this aspect!

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  2. This is just another node in the 30/30 proposal which will ultimately transform much of the American West into a scenic viewshed with increasingly restricted access, including for recreation. As these agency initiatives kick in, the salami is sliced thinner and thinner as government and management shifts to NGO litigation initiated to coerce the agencies to restrict use and access. And the local populations will not even be in the courtroom as NGO and government agency lawyers decide their fate.

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  3. Maybe there should be public involvement for interim protection of nominated ACECs (like a plan amendment), but it would be perverse abuse of NEPA to invoke that as a reason to NOT protect the areas from environmental impacts while long-term direction is being adopted.

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    • Well, we probably can’t argue this as well as our lawyer friends, but I’m a section 101 fan:
      “to use all practicable means and measures, including financial and technical assistance, in a manner calculated to foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.”

      The statute talks about “productive harmony” not “protecting from environment impacts.” Plus so called “protection” can have environmental impacts itself.. who is to judge the impacts of a solar farm on carbon compared to the local impacts of building and maintaining it? That’s what impact statements and public involvement are for.

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      • NEPA does not apply to no action. The specific requirements for NEPA process kick in when there is a major federal action that may have significant adverse environmental impacts. A decision to not do anything for awhile does not trigger NEPA.

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  4. By any other name (and twisting the meaning of words) it is all a direct subversion of the multiple use mandates governing the Forest Service and BLM with a shift to “no use” as a “creative new use”. The map I have seen of the projected 30/30 goals for the western US is downright scary and, as here, there are multiple initiatives pushing it, all with different names and policy goals.

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    • I think it’s best to think of “multiple use” “mandate” as an oxymoron. Multiple use is a permissive concept where agencies are authorized to do different things (including, at some times and places, nothing).

      Reply

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