Colorado objects to Trump administration’s public land rules

Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018 6:28 PM

DENVER – Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday the Trump administration is not giving the public nearly enough time to comment on plans to drill for oil and gas on vast tracts of public land

In a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said the public is no longer allowed to comment on some stages of the oil and gas planning process and on others has only 10 days to object.

Hickenlooper also said the federal government is not doing enough to keep drilling rigs from disrupting big game and the greater sage grouse, a bird that Western states and federal agencies are trying to protect.

Hickenlooper asked the bureau to withhold some areas from a planned December auction of drilling rights on 361 square miles of public land in Colorado because they are in sage grouse habitat. He also asked the agency to limit the number of drilling sites on big-game animals’ migration corridors and wintering grounds.

An agency spokesman said the bureau is reviewing the letter.

The bureau manages about 388,000 square miles of public land nationwide and oversees the sale of oil and gas leases on most federal land.

Under President Donald Trump, the agency has been rolling back environmental protections seen as hindering oil, gas and coal development on those lands. It has also shortened the process of selling leases for wells, sometimes reducing the amount of time for comments and objections from the public and from state and local officials.

“This new process is insufficient to allow for meaningful input into a sale that currently includes 224 parcels and 230,944 acres across Colorado,” Hickenlooper wrote, referring to the planned December auction.

Hickenlooper noted the Bureau of Land Management had withdrawn all or parts of 18 parcels of land on sage grouse habitat from the December sale, but he said dozens more should also be pulled.

Millions of sage grouse once lived across the U.S. West and Canada, but the population has plummeted to between 200,000 and 500,000. Experts blame energy development that broke up the bird’s habitat, along with disease, livestock grazing and other causes.

A joint federal-state program called the Sage Grouse Initiative, launched under the Obama administration, is trying to save the bird without invoking the strict restrictions of the Endangered Species Act. Hickenlooper, other Western governors and conservation groups have complained the Trump administration is threatening to undermine that effort by weakening environmental protections.

Hickenlooper also asked the Bureau of Land Management not to offer drilling leases adjacent to Paonia State Park in western Colorado, saying drilling there would disrupt the park.