Public lands planning: Sec. Zinke targets BLM planning for revision
Washington, D.C. – On March 27, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued a memorandum to the Acting Director Michael Nedd of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), instructing him to consider options for improving the agency’s planning and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes.
“I have heard many concerns about the Planning 2.0 rule and about BLM’s planning and environmental analysis processes,” Zinke wrote in the memo. “These concerns must be addressed.”
He continued that the delays that result from NEPA and BLM’s planning processes are excessive, resulting in costly, long-term studies and reviews.
“Often these additional steps are not a crucial part of a successful planning effort, informing the public or communicating the impacts and tradeoffs involved in a decision,” he said.
BLM manages 13 percent of the surface area in the United States and roughly one-third of its mineral resources under that land.
“There is little doubt that BLM has a big job in managing our public lands for a wide variety of activities,” Zinke explained. “These activities contribute to the economic health and prosperity of states and local communities by creating jobs through multiple use.”
The $48 million and 5,000 documents involved in NEPA annually could be better spent in on-the-ground work that stimulates economic opportunities.
Zinke commented that BLM’s environmental analysis processes are broken, unnecessarily lengthy and burdensome, according to state and local partners for the agency.
“It doesn’t produce the result demanded by the American people,” he continued. “The result demanded is to have an effective, efficient and transparent process that takes less time, costs less money and is more responsive to local needs.”
“For these reasons, I am directing BLM to go back to the drawing board to define actionable items that will make a measurable impact on improving the federal planning process,” Zinke emphasized.
Good neighbors and multiple use
As a result of the constraints and ineffectiveness of the planning process currently, Zinke wrote, “I hereby direct BLM, in accordance with its multiple-use mission, to immediately begin a focused effort to identify and implement results-oriented improvements to its land use planning and NEPA processes.”
Among the direction Zinke gave BLM, he asked the agency to identify redundancies and inefficiencies that can be eliminated while also fulfilling the legal and resource stewardship objectives associated with land management.
“These concepts are not mutually exclusive and should guide BLM as it undertakes this effort,” he said. “BLM will take a hard look at all aspects of the planning process, including challenges with NEPA, and shall incorporate the views and ideas of our state and local partners.”
Zinke laid out seven criteria for the evaluation, including finding better ways to partner with states and reducing duplicative analyses. He also asked the agency to consider more user-friendly representation of the planning process while fostering greater transparency in the NEPA process, including proper accounting of timeframes, delays and the financial cost of NEPA analyses.
He asked that BLM processes seek opportunities to avoid appeal and litigation delays, build trust with neighbors by better integrating local and state needs and developing and implementing efforts to “right size” environmental documents.
“As BLM evaluates all potential solutions, it shall also include in its analysis how a new rulemaking will meet the aforementioned criteria,” Zinke said. “In conducting this analysis, BLM shall make every effort to restore order, focus and efficiency to the federal planning process.”
He emphasized alignment with President Trump’s goals of making America great again through energy independent and shared conservation stewardship, making America safe by restoring sovereignty, getting America back to work and serving the American family.
In this direction, Zinke asked for a report within six months that describes future planning decisions that also provides recommendations for regulatory or legislative actions necessary to meet those goals.
For Wyomingites, Zinke’s memo means a reduction in one-size-fits-all planning and an increase in local land policy.
“The idea that one-size-fits-all, top-down, landscape-scale land use plant that takes year and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete is not an efficient use of taxpayer money,” said Karen Budd Falen of Budd Falen Law Offices, LLC in Cheyenne. “I do not think that was envisioned by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), either.”
Budd Falen cautioned, “While certainly the devil is in the details and I think the livestock industry needs to be fully engaged in commenting on any draft regulations coming out of this effort, the preliminary direction that there needs to be a stronger partnership between BLM and local governments is refreshing and will benefit local industries and the environment.”
The strong voice and focus of local governments, including conservation districts, situates them ideally to have a voice in management of public lands, she added.
As NEPA begins to transform, Budd Falen commented that she believes it would be beneficial to look at whether projects could be reviewed using categorical exclusions or streamlined environmental assessments (EAs).
“I know a lot of BLM employees who would much rather be out in the field than in the office writing NEPA documents,” she added.
Budd Falen summarized, “I think this effort by Secretary Zinke is a good first step toward these goals.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.