DOI Regulatory Reform Initiative Comments Call For End to ‘Duplicative,’ ‘Undefined’ Rules
Water utilities and energy producers have called for a review of “undefined,” “duplicative,” and “problematic” regulations by the Department of the Interior as a result of the Trump administration’s Executive Order 13777.
The order, which directed the Secretary of the Interior and all other Federal agencies to review regulations to “alleviat[e] unnecessary burdens placed on the American people” through agency “repeal, replacement, or modification,” gives broad latitude in assessing whether the regulations eliminate or inhibit job creation, impose excessive costs, or are otherwise unnecessary or ineffective.
“Former President Obama had issued an Executive Order that required federal agencies to update their environmental mitigation policies, including a requirement that mitigation provide a “net environmental benefit,” wrote the Western Urban Water Coalition (WUWC). “The term was undefined, which allows for broad agency discretion, and exceeds all past federal mitigation requirements.”
WUWC said that while the current administration had been reconsidering the mitigation policies through the lens of energy development, such ambiguous rules potentially gave DOI and other agencies too much power. WUWC represents 35 million water consumers throughout the West in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Nevada.
“DOI should review each bureau’s mitigation policies to eliminate the requirement that mitigation provide a “net environmental benefit,” “not only for projects supporting energy independence, but also for water infrastructure and wildfire treatment projects,” WUWC wrote.
The group also pushed for Endangered Species Act (ESA) reform to better “define the meaning of the ESA’s “best available science” test and “develop policy guidance to define how exclusions from critical habitat will be made based on the economic impacts of designation on regulatory entities.”
Berkshire Hathaway Energy, an energy and utility provider of regulated electric, pipeline, and natural gas in states all across the West from Wyoming to California, identified areas of what it called the Bureau of Land Management’s “lack of coordination” with other federal agencies led to “duplicative and disproportionate analyses” in its rulemaking process.
“BHE’s experience on projects has shown a lack of coordination by the BLM with other federal agencies (e.g. United States Fish and Wildlife Service [USFWS], United States Forest Service [USFS]) and within the BLM to avoid conflicts with other resources,” wrote BHE.
Sage-grouse regulation has been an issue for many Western states, and a review of those policies at a variety of levels, from ESA to conservation plans have sparked intense debates in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado.
“For example, BLM stipulations for power lines in sage-grouse areas, such as undergrounding and installation of perch discouragers, may conflict with cultural resource protections or USFWS requirements regarding golden eagle conservation,” BHE wrote.
Among the biggest concerns addressed by BHE was the need “for concurrent reviews instead of sequential reviews to avoid duplicative action.”
In July, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said such onerous processes could lead to “destroying local communities,” and that burdensome regulatory process was “no way to be a good neighbor.”
“[W]e also support the Secretarial order’s call for identification of options to improve the Federal onshore leasing program, including the identification of additional steps to enhance exploration and development of Federal onshore oil and natural gas resources, and the development of strategies to improve the permit processes for oil and gas operations on Federal lands,” API wrote.
API cited the lack of prioritization, duplicative processes, and other regulatory red tape that resulted in restricted use of Federal lands.
“Too often, oil and gas projects experience months and even years of delay due to regulatory, administrative, and litigation obstacles that sideline projects on Federal lands while projects on non-Federal lands proceed under more efficient and predictable regimes of permitting, regulation and judicial review,” API wrote.
Applications for Permits to Drill (APD), API said, are now averaging more than 300 days to process by BLM field offices. Those backlogs in Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, and New Mexico totaled more than 2,000 at the beginning of 2017. Holding quarterly lease sales online, a new effort by BLM this year to engage more potential lessees while reducing security concerns, have resulted in increased revenue for the agency and the states involved, the agency previously told Western Wire.