GAO releases new report on enforcement deficiencies
Two members of Congress Monday sent a letter to Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt requesting information on the Bureau of Land Management’s safety and environmental enforcement efforts. Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Alan S. Lowenthal (D-Calif.), chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources also released a new Government Accountability Office report finding that the BLM has failed to complete internal control reviews at over 80 percent of field offices that manage oil and gas activities on public lands.
Formally, the letter – available at http://bit.ly/2EPQREG – asks for each noncompliance notice BLM issued for safety, environmental, or drilling violations from February 2011 through March 2019. The data builds on a 2012 report from then-Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) that detailed erratic and inconsistent federal enforcement of federal oil and gas safety rules between 1998 and 2011, according to a press release from a group called Natural Resources Committee Democrats.
The GAO report, Oil and Gas Development: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of the Inspection and Enforcement Program, available at https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-19-7, came the day before Mike Nedd, BLM Deputy Director of Operations, was to testify at the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee hearing examining the agency’s policies and priorities over the last two years. The report finds that BLM’s distribution of oil and gas workload and workforce at their field offices is imbalanced.
Grijalva said the report demonstrates that BLM’s focus on achieving “energy dominance” by selling leases and issuing permits as fast as possible, regardless of environmental or legal consequences, is diverting attention away from carrying out other critical duties, including conducting inspections and enforcing environmental and safety regulations.
The findings “echo a 2005 GAO report that found the dramatic increase in oil and gas operations on public lands between 1999 and 2004 – largely during the George W. Bush administration – severely compromised BLM’s ability to meets its environmental protection responsibilities,” according to the press release.
“Republican presidents manage our vast public lands as they would an oil field, not as sensitive habitats and historic resources,” Grijalva said. “Chairman Lowenthal and I are eager to review this data, and will continue to hold the Trump administration accountable for prioritizing extraction over public safety and environmental health. American taxpayers own our public lands, not the oil and gas industry, and this administration can expect vigorous oversight if it fails to restore some balance to its operations.”