BLM chief says he's thankful for speeding up environmental reviews

BLM chief says he's thankful for speeding up environmental reviews
© Courtesy Department of Interior

William Pendley, the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), said in a Thanksgiving note to staff on Friday that he was thankful for the agency’s achievements, including changes to the environmental review process that allows for fast-tracking of major projects on public lands.

Projects on government land like logging, mining and pipelines can’t proceed without an environmental impact statement (EIS) — something critics argue unnecessarily slows down projects as government experts weigh how it would impact the environment and ecosystem. 

The Trump administration has vowed to speed up the process, something Perry said is already well under way, according to an email obtained by The Hill.

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“The average EIS once ran for 1,485 pages and took over four years to complete. This year, those numbers dropped to 151 pages within 15 months. Similarly, the average [environmental assessment] length prior to 2017 was 42 pages written over one year. This year, those numbers dropped to 27 pages in just three months,” Pendley wrote of “streamlining the environmental review process.”

Environmentalists have complained the Trump administration is speeding ahead on reviews without doing their due diligence.  

In 2017, the Department of the Interior, which oversees BLM, announced a new process for doing environmental reviews, centralizing the process with some of the highest-level staff at Interior. Those who review National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analyses include the chief of staff, the deputy secretary, and the deputy solicitor for Interior.

The change was criticized at the time, with environmentalists arguing environmental reviews should be done by expert career staff rather than high-level political appointees.

And BLM’s upcoming relocation out West could further sideline those career staff.

Documents obtained by The Hill show the move would split up the NEPA review team, splitting the 20-person team across seven states.

Pendley also boasted about other developments at BLM, including the sale of 250 million board feet of timber valued at $62.4 million, the most the agency has offered up since 1993. They’ve also sold off or adopted 7,104 wild horses and burros — the highest number in 15 years.