Photo: Wild Earth Guardians

This week, in front of House and Senate committees, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will attempt to defend shifts in his agency’s proposed budget that the White House claims will protect America’s natural resources and “provide access to public lands for the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts.” What it really does is streamline access to oil, gas, and coal under public lands and federally-controlled ocean waters for the fossil fuel industry – and condemns Americans to more spills, climate-polluting emissions, and health problems.

The Department of Interior (DOI) manages about 530 million acres – around 20 percent of all U.S. territory – and over 700 million acres of mineral resources, including oil, gas, and coal. Donald Trump and Sec. Zinke’s Interior budget promises to increase funding to “streamline permitting processes and provide industry with access to the energy resources America needs” from these places.

DOI’s budget successfully greases the wheels for more government giveaways to fossil fuel companies that will facilitate additional extraction – but it also slashes support for renewables, the kind of energy that America really needs.

Aiding the fossil fuel buildout

Zinke’s budgets requests an additional $16 million (an increase of almost 30%) and 82 added Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staff to process permits for oil and gas development on public lands. To speed up coal mining permits, the DOI budget asks Congress for an extra $8 million (a 75% increase) and 48 new hires.

Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) 2018 budget increases spending for expanding offshore oil and gas drilling by more than $10 million through the national Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

So what’s the big deal?

The fossil fuels produced from federal lands and waters are responsible for nearly 28% of the country’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. And recent studies indicate that current leases to develop oil, gas, and coal would already lock the United States into exceeding internationally-agreed climate targets.

Although the United States has banished itself from the international community by deciding leave the Paris climate agreement, that doesn’t change the impact of our emissions on the atmosphere. Signing new leases – and using more public money to hand over public lands for extraction – would make the climate problem even worse.

Picking winners & losers

What Americans really need is public investment in clean, renewable energy. Sec. Zinke has parroted Trump’s support for an all-of-the-above energy strategy, calling it “prudent,” and claims that at the DOI “[w]e don’t pick winners and losers” by giving any energy sector a step up. But his budget says otherwise.

While DOI proposes to spend at least $34 million to speed permitting and leasing for fossil fuels, it slashes funding for renewable energy. BLM’s budget shrinks comparable renewable energy permitting by $13 million (a cut of more than 40 percent), and lays off more than half of its renewable energy management program workforce. BOEM’s budget proposes to cut spending on renewable energy-related activities and support functions by $2.5 million.

Considering the oil, gas, and coal boom that the Trump Administration hopes to unleash on federal lands and in offshore waters, you might expect stepped-up protection for the American public and the environment. Sadly, you’d be wrong.

Even as the Administration plans to massively expand dirty energy production, it’s budget hamstrings our ability to respond to the spills, disasters, and health and environmental impacts that accompany fossil fuel extraction.

DOI’s budget proposes deep cuts to programs designed to minimize the impacts of fossil fuel expansion. Zinke requests a $1.5 million reduction for BLM air and water quality monitoring activities intended to make oil and gas permitting safer.

Furthermore, the budget slashes funding for the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program’s inland oil spill preparedness program by 80 percent, and cuts another $11 million from BLM as the agency aims to limit new cleanup efforts at abandoned coal mines, promising to remediate only the highest threats to clean water and public health.

Trump’s budget completely eliminates the U.S. Geological Survey’s $1 million unconventional oil and gas research program, which gathers critical data on the extreme impacts of fossil fuel development in the Marcellus and Bakken shale regions. Cutting this program means doing away with tools for resource managers, public health agencies, and other responders to detect and respond to leaks and reduce health risks.

What’s clear from the Interior Department’s 2018 budget request is that the American public is the biggest loser when it comes to the Trump Administration’s fossil fuel expansion agenda.

For more on how the Interior Department’s budget aims to expand fossil fuel and funnel billions in public money directly to fossil fuel producers, see our recent blog: “Trump’s Interior budget: More drilling, more mining, more handouts.”

For more on the $7 billion per year in taxpayer money currently being given away to the oil, gas, and coal industries to extract on public lands, see our recent report: “Unequal Exchange: How Taxpayers Shoulder the Burden of Fossil Fuel Development on Federal Lands.”

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