Eastern US: Private Oil & Gas on USFS land might finally be held accountable for lawlessness

As tensions grow in Eastern forests where the government owns above-ground resources but not rights to those below… In a sharp break from the past, the Forest Service is getting ready to write regulations for private drilling and mining operations in national forests.

Get full text; support writer, producer of the words:
http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/03/06/06greenwire-as-energy-projects-grow-agency-moves-to-regula-10025.html

Environmentalists say the Forest Service has failed to apply
environmental restrictions on road building and drilling on public
lands. Industry counters by saying it has worked well with the agency
for years and no changes in that relationship are needed. In fact,
industry maintains that the Forest Service has no authority to write
new rules.

The Sierra Club last month submitted comments urging the
Forest Service to more aggressively regulate oil and gas drilling
through a new permitting system that requires environmental assessment
of all drilling impacts, protection for forest habitats and wildlife
and swift cleanups after work is done. The group also wants assurances
that the public is an integral part of the decision-making process.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) also filed
comments calling for new regulations.

“USFS has not imposed the slightest protection for its most ecologically sensitive lands or wildlife from damaging extraction operations,” the group wrote. “This posture is both contrary to law and constitutes a remarkably poor policy choice for a federal resource agency.” The group added, “In essence, the Forest Service has had its head in the sand for the last generation. Unless it updates its approach, a federal court will step in to do the job for the agency.” Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, said the Forest Service has not dealt with the problems until now, when it has been forced to by the lawsuits.

“The Forest Service, in contrast to its Interior sister agencies, has taken the
position since the Reagan administration that private mineral rights
trump all environmental laws, so the Endangered Species Act doesn’t
apply, NEPA doesn’t apply,” he added. “And you’ve had situations …
where the oil and gas company comes in and says, ‘We’re going to do
the following things, and you can’t stop us.'” Steve Rhoads, president
of the Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Association, filed comments disputing
the Forest Service’s right to establish new regulations.

“We basically said we don’t think there’s a need for new rules,” he said. “They
don’t have the statutory authority to write new rules.”Rhoads said the
Forest Service is a co-owner of the property and shares the right of
access to the surface. “Neither party has the ability to dictate to
the other how the other party operates within those boundaries,” he
said. “We do have a joint responsibility to honor and respect each
other’s right.”

Get full text; support writer, producer of the words:
http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/03/06/06greenwire-as-energy-projects-grow-agency-moves-to-regula-10025.html

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