by Tim Pierce
The Department of the Interior (DOI) is scrapping an Obama-era policy mandating energy companies mitigate development on federal land by funding offsite environmental projects.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) — a DOI-controlled agency and the largest land-owning agency in the U.S. — began forcing oil, gas and coal companies to pay mitigation fees to the BLM or a third party under former President Barack Obama. The fees would be used to fund environmental projects such as restoring habitat or protecting wetlands. The size of the fee was calculated by the BLM to cover the damage done by the proposed development.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke retracted the policy in a memo to the BLM Tuesday.
“This policy means that Americans … who want to use their public lands will no longer be required to pay money to BLM or third parties as a form of ‘mitigation’ when they seek new permits from BLM,” DOI spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “BLM will continue to require project proponents to avoid or minimize actual harm on public lands as appropriate.”
“This policy also does not affect State mitigation programs, or compensatory mitigation under other federal laws,” Vander Voort added.
The idea behind the Obama-era policy has floated around BLM officials and government offices for several decades. In 1995, A BLM-Wyoming state official said compensatory mitigation fees could “appear to be an unauthorized tax or an equally unauthorized attempt to augment BLM’s existing appropriations,” according to the memo.
Environmentalists bashed the change in policy and accused the Trump administration of selling out public lands to industry.
“This is the latest dismal action by Secretary Zinke and the Trump administration to put special interests ahead of our natural heritage,” Center for Biological Diversity Government Affairs director Brett Hartl told Reuters. “It is deeply out of touch with the values of all Americans that support a healthy environment and vibrant wildlife communities.”
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Tim Pierce is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation. Follow Tim Pearce on Twitter.