Clean Air, Public Lands at Risk From Energy Bill Provisions

Bill could delay air cleanups, make oil drilling primary use of public lands


David Baron, 202-667-4500 x 220
Randy Moorman, 202-667-4500 x 201
Cat Lazaroff, 202-667-4500 x 213

Today, rumors surfaced of a stealth attack on the nation’s premiere clean air law, in the form of a rider attached to the Domenici-Tauzin energy bill by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX). Conference leaders Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) plan to release the final draft energy bill on Saturday, with a conference vote expected early next week.

The dirty air rider would drastically weaken clean air protections for some of the most polluted cities in the nation, including Washington DC, Dallas, Atlanta, and Baton Rouge. These cities would be allowed to delay implementation of health-protecting clean air measures already adopted in cities across the country, including New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, and Milwaukee.

“This grossly irresponsible proposal would force millions of Americans to breathe dirty air long past current cleanup deadlines,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “It would mean more days when children, senior citizens and others are exposed to dangerous levels of pollution just by stepping outside their front doors.”

The bill, if similar to previous drafts, also threatens to make oil and gas development the dominant use of America’s public lands. Earthjustice urges Congress to reject the bill, and respect the multiple uses for which our public lands were designated.

“If this bill becomes law, recreation uses such as hunting, fishing, and camping may have to take a backseat to oil drilling and thousands of new roads,” said Randy Moorman, Legislative Research Associate of Earthjustice. “Opening up these undeveloped lands to drilling could threaten water quality, wildlife and private property.”

The Domenici-Tauzin energy bill tries to upset the balance of public land uses by giving oil and gas companies the upper hand. Over the past 50 years, Congress has mandated a “multiple use” principle, ensuring that uses such as energy development be balanced with all other uses and values, including protecting wildlife and habitat, air, watersheds, recreational uses, wildlands, cultural and agricultural sites, and the private property rights of residents who own surface rights but not the mineral rights underneath them. This bill is an attempt to place oil and gas development above all other uses.

“Congress always intended that public lands should be managed for all users — not just the energy industry,” said Moorman “The House and Senate should stand up for that principle, and reject this damaging bill.”

The final draft energy bill, expected to be released tomorrow, will more than likely seek to:

  • Exclude drilling fluids, many containing diesel fuels and other potentially toxic chemicals, from being considered drinking water pollutants under the Safe Drinking Water Act;

  • Exempt oil and gas drilling sites from water pollution controls under the Clean Water Act;

  • Require federal land managers to determine whether programs to protect wildlife, watersheds, wildlands, and recreational activities would have “a significant adverse effect” on energy development before “taking action” to implement such plans;

  • Allow the Department of Interior to permit new energy projects without addressing environmental reviews as required by existing laws;

  • Create a “pilot project” in seven Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field offices throughout the Rocky Mountain states to expedite the approval of drilling permits. Protections of wildlife and other public values could be abandoned in the name of streamlining paperwork.

  • Require the U.S. Geological Survey to identify as “restrictions” and “impediments” to oil and gas development on public lands such federal management practices as scientifically-based protections of fish, wildlife, and cultural and historic sites.

In addition to these provisions, Senator Domenici and Congressman Tauzin have inserted language in the draft bill that opens up more public lands to drilling and threatens endangered species. The new measures were added behind closed doors without any debate in either the Senate or the House, or any consultation with Democrats on the energy conference committee. These provisions include:

  • A section that gives BLM just 10 days to review lengthy permit applications that applicants may have taken up to two years to complete. The measure also biases the BLM toward approving completed permit applications, by allowing just 30 days for the agency to either approve an application or offer specific suggestions for “any steps that the applicant could take for the permit to be issued.”

  • The provision seeks to require approval of an application that is deemed “complete,” even if the project is fundamentally flawed because its environmental impacts cannot be mitigated, such as projects sited near sensitive areas including streams or steep slopes.

  • A section that seeks to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to lease 100% of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPRA) for oil and gas development, without regard for wildlife habitat, native hunting and fishing, water quality, or other non-commercial values. This section makes other changes to enhance leasing as well, including authorizing the Interior Secretary to give away public resources to private companies, waiving all fees and royalties at the Secretary’s discretion.

  • Additional language has been proposed, but not yet inserted in the last draft that seeks to weaken a fundamental requirement of the Endangered Species Act by creating a special rule for endangered species consultation in the NPRA.

“This bill is a huge handout to the energy industry,” said Moorman. “If this legislation passes, American taxpayers and our public lands will be stuck footing the bill for that handout and the degradation of America’s treasured places.”


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