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Secretary Zinke and the Great Public Lands Wholesale

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will offer up nearly 4 million acres of public lands for lease this year, much of it for dirt cheap

“The United States is now likely the world’s largest oil producer. Even so, the Trump administration continues its sprint to lease the nation’s public lands to energy companies. From September through the end of the year, the Bureau of Land Management will offer leases for oil and gas drilling on nearly 3 million acres of public lands, according to government statistics compiled by the Wilderness Society and Center for Western Priorities. That would mean, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, that for the entire year the administration will have offered for lease almost 4 million acres in the Lower 48 alone. That’s a nearly four-fold increase over 2016, the last year of the Obama administration. And that doesn’t include lease sales in Alaska and in public waters such as the Gulf of Mexico, where Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has vigorously pushed leasing as part of the administration’s policy of energy dominance. To that end, Zinke has directed BLM offices, which oversee the public’s oil and gas deposits, to hold lease sales every quarter. Master leasing plans, or broader planning for the landscape, have been scuttled. Opportunities for the public to comment have been shortened, or dispensed with altogether. The energy industry has cheered these changes, saying the old ways were sclerotic and discouraged sensible development.

For the Interior Department this kind of wholesale leasing seems to be what they most loudly tout. Earlier this month it issued a press release crowing about third-quarter lease sales in New Mexico that brought in nearly $1 billion. “Critics of the Administration’s American Energy Dominance policy often falsely claim there is little to no interest in Federal oil and gas leases,” Zinke said in the release. “Today, they are eating their words and once again President Trump’s policies are bearing fruit for the American people. The people of New Mexico will see about a half a billion dollars of this right back into their roads, schools and public services…”

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