The Interior Department's number-two official issued a secretarial order just before Christmas rescinding several climate change and conservation policies issued under the Obama administration, saying they were "inconsistent" with President Trump's quest for energy independence.
Secretarial Order 3360, signed Dec. 22 by Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, wipes away four separate directives and policy manuals aimed at showing departmental employees how to minimize the environmental impact of activities on federal land and in federal waters, and calls for the review of a fifth one that applies to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
Instead, it directs officials to reinstate and update guidance issued during the final year of George W. Bush's second term by Jan. 22.
The Interior Department aims to mitigate any negative environmental impacts in ways that are consistent with federal law, transparent and "are consistent with direction provided by Congress and provide a level of certainty to all involved parties," the order states.
While the documents in question are highly technical, the move underscores the extent to which Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his deputies are uprooting policies and procedures aimed at factoring climate and environmental effects into the department's decision-making process.
The manuals and handbooks include detailed instructions on how officials at the Bureau of Land Management, for example, should minimize activities on the agency's land that could harm certain species or accelerate climate change.
Alex Daue, assistant director of energy and climate at the Wilderness Society, said in an interview that Interior officials will still face the same legal obligations to reduce negative environmental impacts on public land, but "they no longer have the tools to do so efficiently and effectively."
Officials spent years compiling a list of "best practices" in this area, Daue said, and the Trump administration "just ripped them up."
Interior officials did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. But Zinke has been sharply critical of the idea of "mitigation," where the federal government requires companies to pay to offset the negative environmental impact their activities have on public land.
Bernhardt wrote that the order "is intended to improve the internal management of the Department."
Jim Lyons, who served as Interior's deputy assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management under the Obama administration, said in an interview that revoking these policies will undermine the kind of landscape-scale conservation espoused by scientists as well as many policymakers.
"They're determined to lease and develop every acre they possibly can, which will minimize the potential for conserving these landscapes in subsequent administrations," said Lyons, who is now a senior fellow at the liberal think tank, Center for American Progress, and a lecturer at Yale University.
"They're quite efficient, and they know exactly what they want to do."
The Interior Department has also invited public comment on the mitigation policy adopted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in November 2016, which says the agency will "at minimum" require "no net loss" of habitat when approving regulated activities.
Several oil and gas groups, including the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the American Petroleum Institute and the American Production & Exploration Council, will submit comments Friday asking for the policy to be revoked on the grounds that it "prioritizes conservation objectives" over other uses of public land.
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