BLM starts bid to revamp land-use planning, NEPA reviews

Source: Scott Streater, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Bureau of Land Management wants public input on its forthcoming revisions to land-use planning procedures and environmental reviews as part of an effort to replace an Obama-era rule Congress killed in the spring.

The request for comments comes a little more than three months after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, in an internal memorandum obtained by E&E News, directed BLM to “identify and implement” revisions to land-use planning and reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act (E&E News PM, April 18).

In the memo to BLM acting Director Mike Nedd, Zinke directed the agency to begin the process for a possible new rulemaking that would “identify where redundancies and inefficient processes exist and should be eliminated, while ensuring that we fulfill our legal and resource stewardship responsibilities.”

This week’s request for comments is one of the first steps to replace the Planning 2.0 rule — repealed by Congress in March — that revised for the first time in three decades BLM’s land-use planning process for managing the agency’s 245 million acres.

President Trump signed into law the congressional resolution killing Planning 2.0 (E&E News PM, March 27).

Zinke wrote in his March memo that he had “heard many concerns” about Planning 2.0, as well as BLM’s “planning and environmental analysis processes. These concerns must be addressed.”

In a statement Monday announcing the 21-day public comment period running through July 24, Zinke said the “decisions made in land use plans and environmental reviews are fundamental to how public lands and resources are used for the benefit of all Americans.”

The statement echoes GOP critics in Congress who said the Obama-era regulation left state and local input out of important land management decisions.

“The Trump administration and the Department of the Interior are committed to working with state and local governments, communities, Indian tribes, and other stakeholders as true partners to determine the best ways to accomplish this, now and into the future,” Zinke said in the statement.

Zinke in his March memo directed BLM to “take a hard look at all aspects of the planning process” and to submit a report to him by the end of September that provides “recommendations for any regulatory or legislative actions necessary to meet” a list of seven goals he outlined in the memo.

The goals include finding “better ways” to partner federal land-use planning efforts with “state planning efforts,” seeking “opportunities to avoid delays caused by appeals and litigation” and developing a process to “right size” environmental review documents, “instead of defaulting to preparing an Environmental Impact Statement in circumstances when such a document is not absolutely needed,” according to the memo.

Nedd said in the Monday press release that BLM is already working with state and local elected officials, including the Western Governors’ Association and the National Association of Counties, to gather input on the next steps to revise land-use planning processes.

“We are doing this because Secretary Zinke and President Trump both strongly believe that public engagement, especially at the local level, is a critical component of federal land management,” Nedd said in a statement. “We need and want input from our state and local partners as well as from the general public in this effort.”

Environmental concerns

But conservation groups ripped BLM’s regulatory review.

Green groups and other supporters had long argued that Planning 2.0 provided more opportunities for public comment and outlined a reasonable path forward for improving public lands management.

Greg Zimmerman, deputy director of the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities, said conducting the latest review in the name of increasing local input in the planning process is laughable.

“Here’s just another example of Secretary Zinke paying lip service to local input, while the Interior Department under his leadership has done more to erode community participation in public lands planning than any in recent memory,” Zimmerman said.

Chris Saeger, executive director for Western Values Project, questioned why BLM began the public comment period Monday, the day before the Fourth of July.

“These leading questions reveal this exercise to be as much of a sham as the supposed review of national monuments” Zinke is currently conducting, Saeger said.

He added, “Secretary Zinke’s latest dog and pony show is clearly intended to provide cover for more favors to the oil and gas industry that has bankrolled his and President Trump’s political careers.”