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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Interior Department Kicks Off Energy Leasing Review With Wide Range Of Voices

A photo of public land with a sign in front of it from the Bureau of Land Management.
Creative Commons
Drilling for oil and gas on federal public lands in Utah produced over $67 million in royalties last year. Around half of that came back to the state.

The U.S. Interior Department’s energy leasing review is in full swing, following a call with a wide range of stakeholders.

President Joe Biden requested the review back in January, when he indefinitely paused all leasing on federal public lands. It began in earnest this month, following the confirmation of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

Haaland kicked off the call Thursday with a repudiation of the prior administration’s leasing policies.

“During the past four years, the Trump Administration offered vast swaths of our public lands and waters for drilling, prioritizing fossil fuel development above all other uses on public lands and waters,” she said. “The potential impacts to people, water, wildlife and climate were deliberately ignored, something the courts continue to address.”

But Haaland acknowledged the ongoing need for fossil fuel development in the U.S., suggesting the department may not be considering a permanent ban on leasing as some energy producers have feared.

“Fossil fuels will continue to play a major role in America for years to come,” she said. “But too often the extraction of resources has been rushed to meet the false urgency of political timetables, rather than with careful consideration for the impacts of current or future generations.”

For the next three hours, Interior Department officials heard from environmental activists, energy industry groups, tribal representatives, union leaders and academic experts about ways to reform the current leasing process to make it work for more Americans.

Their demands ranged from a full stop to leasing to minor tweaks to address pollution and climate change.

The federal officials who led the call all have backgrounds in environmental advocacy, and their questions and comments revealed some of the department’s intentions. For example, they focused heavily on the need to reclaim abandoned and orphaned wells, which can be significant pollution emitters. They also talked about the need to address climate change through a transition to green energy.

Landon Newell with the conservation group Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance listened into the call. His group is advocating for a complete halt to leasing.

“It was a diverse group of people, which shows their interest in having a full discussion about what needs to happen on the leasing front,” Newell said.

However, not all stakeholders were represented on the call. The Utah Petroleum Association joined trade groups from seven other energy-producing states in chastising the Biden Administration for excluding them.

“As associations representing the natural gas and oil industry embedded in communities across our states, we are disappointed today’s forum did not include a single state or local voice representing the hardworking men and women who produce safe, reliable and sustainable energy to fuel our lives,” they wrote in a press release.

Additionally, the state of Utah joined a lawsuit on Wednesday against the Biden Administration’s moratorium on oil and gas leasing.

Interior officials said the first phase of the review will culminate in an interim report this summer. The department is currently accepting comments from the public.

Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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