Press Release

Using pandemic for cover, Trump undercuts conservation rules

US Capitol

US Capitol

Mason Cummings, TWS

A brazen push for oil and gas giveaways, lax enforcement and reduced public input

Using pandemic for cover, Trump undercuts conservation rules

WASHINGTON, April 6, 2020 ---- During the pandemic crisis, the Trump administration is working to roll back pollution and safety enforcement while plowing ahead with oil and gas leasing on public lands. At every step along the way, the administration is limiting public participation in decisions that will affect the public’s health.

Statement from Melyssa Watson, Executive Director, The Wilderness Society:

“The administration continues to quietly undercut environmental safeguards and public oversight using the pandemic as cover. From rolling back EPA’s pollution standards, to pushing for more oil and gas drilling and stifling the public review process, the federal government is fast-tracking rollbacks that deserve public scrutiny. Worse, this is happening at a time when people are sheltered in their homes dealing with extraordinary concerns about their health and livelihoods.”

Oil and gas leases at rock bottom rates.

According to first quarter data, the Department of the Interior is issuing leases to oil and gas companies to drill on the nation’s public lands at rock-bottom rates. In some states, the vast majority of the acres were not sold at auction and are now available for sale for $1.50 per acre as non-competitive lease sales. This action delivers low rates that benefit big oil companies at the expense of the public and taxpayers. The administration may consider additional giveaways such as waiving the royalty fees that drillers pay to the U.S. Treasury when they extract oil from public lands.

Relaxing pollution and safety enforcement.

In response to a letter from the American Petroleum Institute requesting waivers from testing, reporting and other obligations, the EPA has stated it would relax enforcement of pollution and safety requirements. That would put workers and communities at greater risk of harm. 

Shutting out public and community input on decisions that will affect their health.

The Trump administration continues to push rollbacks of environmental policies and laws that require public comments, including the very law that mandates public participation – the National Environmental Policy Act. While people nationwide are focused on grave concerns about the health and economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, the administration has not allowed extensions of comment periods for federal decisions that will affect the health of the environment and the public.

Weaker rules governing mining and drilling in National Forests.

The U.S. Forest Service revealed plans to relax restrictions on mining and oil and gas leasing in our national forests. Those lands provide the clean air we breathe and drinking water for millions of people across the United States. On April 1, the Forest Service issued a locatable minerals notice of intent to revise their rules this year.

Opening up non-motorized trails for motorized uses.

The Trump administration has proposed a rule for federal lands to allow bicycles with electric motors (e-bikes) on trails that have been reserved for non-motorized use. These are places that local trail advocates, mountain biking clubs and others have spent decades designing, funding and maintaining specifically for non-motorized, human-powered uses. Meanwhile, thousands of miles of roads and trails on public lands are already open to motorized e-bike use. Adding insult to injury, BLM proposes to enact these changes with no environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Wilderness Society, founded in 1935, is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. With more than one million members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 111 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands.   

Contact: Michael Reinemer, [email protected], 202-429-3949