By Mark Richardson
A study shows that since the Trump administration declared the COVID-19 crisis a national emergency, federal officials have been busy cutting environmental regulations.
A review by the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities found that since the executive order was issued, the Interior Department and its agencies have issued 57 separate policy actions affecting public lands in Arizona and across the West.
Aaron Weiss, the center’s deputy director, says since March 6, officials have rolled back regulations on oil and gas leasing, removed protections for endangered wildlife, and expanded mining operations.
“They opened or closed 34 separate public comment periods,” Weiss points out. “They finalized nine different final actions. They held eight oil and gas lease sales across the country. So, it really is a breathtaking pace.”
Weiss adds that during that time, agency officials took no steps to close national parks or protect visitors and agency employees from exposure.
Interior officials say they followed all applicable notification and public comment laws in issuing new rules.
Weiss says Interior Secretary David Bernhardt acted despite requests from local elected officials and members of Congress that the agency suspend rule-making during the pandemic.
“They know that the clock is ticking,” Weiss states. “At some point in May or June is going to be the 60-day deadline, after which any actions that the Interior Department takes will be potentially revocable by a future Congress.”
As a result, one Arizona-based group has filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management for failing to protect the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area from livestock grazing.
Dr. Robin Silver, a physician and co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity says the BLM’s acting administrator, William Perry Pendley, is an ex-lobbyist for ranching interests.
“The guy that’s running the BLM now, he’s spent his whole life trying to destroy any regulations on the cow grazing industry by BLM,” Silver points out. “And now he runs them.”
The San Pedro riparian area in southern Arizona is home to several protected or endangered species, and also is the traditional territory of several Native American tribes.
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