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New BLM Rules Align With Montanans’ Values

Colorado College recently released the results of its annual, bipartisan Conservation in the West Poll. As it has for the last several years, it shows that Montanans across the political spectrum are decidedly pro-conservation, prioritizing wildland protection, healthy fish and wildlife habitat, and water quality over industrial development of our public lands.

Some of the more telling statistics include:

•65 percent of Montanans support only allowing oil and gas companies the right to drill in areas where there is high likelihood to actually produce oil and gas.

•67 percent of Montanans prefer that leaders place more emphasis on protecting water, air, wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities over maximizing the amount of land available for drilling and mining.

•93 percent of Montanans support requiring oil and gas companies, rather than federal and state governments, to pay for all of the clean-up and land restoration costs after drilling is finished.

Unfortunately, for decades now, the Bureau of Land Management has taken an extraction-above-all-else approach to how it manages 245 million acres of public lands across the country, including 8.1 million acres in Montana. That approach stands in direct conflict with the conservation values that an overwhelming majority of Montanans and other Westerners share. There is perhaps no clearer indication of that disconnect than this: a startling 90 percent of BLM-managed public lands in Montana are available for oil and gas leasing. What’s more, a recently released report estimates that at current bonding rates, Montana taxpayers will be on the hook to cover $181.2 million in reclamation costs for oil and gas wells that are currently in production.

Thankfully, the approach the BLM takes to land management could start to align with Montanans’ values as soon as this year when the Department of the Interior and the BLM finalize two rules that it proposed to the public last year. Both of these would update land management practices, some of which haven’t been updated since the mid-20th century, and help the BLM to bring balance to its planning and on-the-ground management decisions.

We’re calling on the Department of the Interior and the BLM to finalize both of these rules in the coming months and to respect the near-universal support that hundreds of thousands of Americans have demonstrated in the comments they’ve submitted to the BLM in regard to the rules.

The first rule, the so-called “Public Lands Rule,” would reinforce the BLM’s multiple- use mandate by putting conservation on equal footing with extractive uses, such as mining and drilling. It would protect undeveloped and intact landscapes, restore degraded habitat, and base management decisions on the best available science and data. It would help ensure healthy wildlife habitat, clean water, and access to public lands. Simply put, it places conservation, recreation, and access to nature on equal footing with extractive uses on public lands.

The BLM received 152,000 comments on this rule last year. According to a statistical analysis conducted by the Center for Western Priorities, 92 percent of those comments encouraged the Interior Department to adopt the Public Lands Rule as written or strengthen its conservation measures.

The second rule would implement provisions passed in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, ensuring taxpayers receive a fair return on private industry’s use of public land and resources and preventing oil and gas companies from paying as little as $1.50 an acre for leasing public lands. It would also hold oil and gas companies responsible for capping oil and gas wells and cleaning up the sites after production has ended.

The BLM received a whopping 260,000 comments on this oil and gas rule. The Center for Western Priorities’s statistical analyses showed virtually no opposition, with more than 99 percent of the comments in support of the rule.

If the BLM was looking for some demand for these rules, it indeed found it in the comments it has received, and in poll after poll showing that Montanans and other Westerners want the BLM to stop prioritizing industry at the expense of clean water, wildlife habitat, and recreation opportunities. Now is the time for the agency to finalize and implement the rules.

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