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BLM weighs cutting environmental review when crafting public lands plans

BLM weighs cutting environmental review when crafting public lands plans
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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is mulling a plan that would exempt the agency from considering environmental impacts when weighing how to use large swaths of public lands.

According to a PowerPoint slide obtained by The Hill, the plan would "remove [National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)] requirements from the planning regulations." The document was first reported by Bloomberg

BLM's land use plans are updated about every 20 years, setting regional goals for what kind of development such as grazing or oil and gas drilling might occur on public lands. NEPA helps ensure that those choices are discussed publicly.

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“When you go through the planning process and do environmental impact statements, the other part of that is public transparency and public involvement,” said Steve Ellis, who retired from the highest-ranking career position within BLM in 2016.  

"That includes developing this whole suite of alternatives that you consider," he added.

BLM did not respond to a request for comment from The Hill but told Bloomberg the proposal has not yet been formally proposed as a rule.

“We don’t currently have a timeline to start the rulemaking process for this proposal,” BLM spokesman Jeff Krauss told the outlet. “If we move forward with a proposed rule, we will notify the public, as required by law.” 

Ellis said BLM would be hurt by not having one big overarching environmental analysis, something that might force the agency to consider effects on a more piecemeal basis, potentially sidestepping a look at the cumulative effects of development, including how they impact climate change.

However, the Trump administration has proposed dramatically scaling back NEPA, including portions of the law that require consideration of climate change.

Under the changes proposed by the Trump administration, officials would need to consider effects of a project that are “reasonably foreseeable” and show “a reasonably close causal relationship.”

Environmentalists say those changes would allow the government to look the other way when projects contribute considerable amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.