When energy corporations produce oil, gas or coal on public lands, they make royalty payments to the federal government and the states where production takes place. In 2016, the Obama administration closed a loophole that allowed companies to dodge those fees. The valuation rule was set to provide tens of millions of dollars to taxpayers, until then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke repealed it shortly into his tenure in 2017. This story originally appeared at High Country News. Now, a federal judge has deemed that move illegal, putting the valuation rule into effect immediately.
In his first 10 days in office, Trump signed an executive order that required all his political hires to sign a pledge. On its face, it’s straightforward and ironclad: When Trump officials leave government employment, they agree not to lobby the agencies they worked in for five years. They also can’t lobby anyone in the White House or political appointees across federal agencies for the duration of the Trump administration. And they can’t perform “lobbying activities,” or things that would help other lobbyists, including setting up meetings or providing background research. Violating the pledge exposes former officials to fines and extended or even permanent bans on lobbying.
On the second day of 2019, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tweeted out his resignation letter to President Donald Trump. After less than two years in office, he claimed to have “restored public lands ‘for the benefit & enjoyment of the people,’ improved public access & shall never be held hostage again for our energy needs.”
That appears to be Zinke’s view of the legacy his abbreviated tenure will leave on the Interior Department’s more than 500 million acres of land and roughly 70,000 employees. Critics might interpret his garbled syntax as a confession: that he turned over public land to industry — pushing oil and gas leases in sensitive habitat, rescinding environmental protections and shrinking national monuments. But what, really, did Zinke accomplish? This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission.
Ryan Zinke will step down from his post as Interior secretary, President Donald Trump announced Saturday. “Secretary of the Interior @RyanZinke will be leaving the Administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years,” Trump wrote in a tweet. In a second tweet, Trump said he plans to announce a replacement in the coming days. In a resignation letter obtained by the Associated Press, Zinke attributed his departure to “vicious and politically motivated attacks.”
Zinke, a former Montana congressman and Navy SEAL, oversaw much of the Trump administration’s energy dominance agenda, including the ramp up of public lands oil and gas leasing and the rollback of environmental protections. The Interior Department includes the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service, which together manage 330 million acres of public lands, mostly in the West. Under Zinke, the Interior Department opened up large swaths of the West to oil and gas drilling, rolled back a suite of climate change policies, and abandoned a number of collaborative land management agreements spearheaded by the department under former President Barack Obama. Zinke announced his intention to rewrite one such plan, on sage grouse protections, early in his tenure.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The federal government is proceeding with plans for a December auction of oil and gas drilling leases on thousands of acres of land in the Greater Chaco region. A comment period on the proposal opened today and will continue through October 31, despite a pending Senate bill that would protect the area, and without a cultural review and consultation promised by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Miya King-Flaherty, organizer with the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, said the government is violating its own procedures by not having a resource management plan in place. “They’re not following their own rules,” King-Flaherty said; “they’re really just rubber-stamping these drilling permits while not giving the thorough analysis that they are mandated to do.” New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have introduced legislation to protect the greater Chaco region.
Given the fire hose of news from Washington, D.C. every day, New Mexicans can be forgiven if they miss stories about environmental overhauls from the White House and funding mishaps in Congress. But ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to climate-changing methane emissions, less money for public lands and parks or the intergenerational impacts of mercury exposure. At NM Political Report, we’re continuing to track the federal changes that affect New Mexicans. Here are a few of the most important issues that popped up recently. Udall: Climate change ‘moral test of our age’ At the end of last month, Congress let the Land and Water Conservation Fund lapse.
If there is one swath of land that holds the most promise for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s vision for energy dominance, it might be southeast New Mexico. The 6-million acre region includes part of the Permian Basin, which stretches into west Texas and is expected to produce more than any other nation except Saudi Arabia by 2023. In August, the Bureau of Land Management released a 1,500-page draft of a new management plan for the New Mexico side of the basin that will determine how its resources will be used for the next 20 years and beyond. The BLM’s Carlsbad field office, which oversees this three-county region, is the busiest in the nation for oil and gas drilling. It’s also a landscape of deserts, grasslands, small mountain ranges and spectacular underground caves.
At its meeting on Thursday, September 13, the New Mexico Oil Conservation Committee will hear from an energy company that wants to double the density of gas wells in northwestern New Mexico. Hilcorp Energy Company is asking the state to amend well density requirements in what’s called the Blanco-Mesaverde Gas Pool in San Juan and Rio Arriba counties. Under the current rules, companies can drill four wells within the designated 320-acre spacing units, and only two can be drilled within each 160-acre section. Companies can also ask the state to increase the density of wells on a case-by-case basis, something Hilcorp notes in its application New Mexico has allowed it to do in 62 instances this year. Rather than continuing to file individual applications, each with its own public notice and hearing, the company is now asking New Mexico to change the spacing rules for the entire Blanco-Mesaverde pool.
As deputy director of the National Park Service, Michael Reynolds played a key role in developing a sweeping new vision for managing national parks. The new policy, enacted in the final weeks of the Obama administration, elevated the role that science played in decision-making and emphasized that parks should take precautionary steps to protect natural and historic treasures. But eight months later, as the first acting director of the Park Service under President Donald Trump, Reynolds rescinded this policy, known as Director’s Order 100. Newly released documents suggest that top Interior Department officials intervened, ordering Reynolds to rescind it. A memo addressed to Reynolds states: “Pursuant to direction from (Interior) Secretary (Ryan) Zinke, I hereby instruct you to rescind Director’s Order #100.”
Reynolds, now the superintendent of Yosemite National Park, did not respond to requests for an interview.
-The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management decided to push back a lease sale in southeastern New Mexico that included parcels near Carlsbad Caverns National Park. To see more on that issue, check out the story we ran about the lease sale earlier this month. Want to get the NM Environment Review in your email a day early? Sign up here! -The Santa Fe New Mexican’s Rebecca Moss, as part of a reporting partnership with ProPublica, uncovered the Trump administration’s move to “inhibit independent oversight” of the nation’s nuclear facilities, including Los Alamos National Laboratory. It’s a must-read story for New Mexicans.