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Op-ed: ‘Bean-counting bureaucrats’ at BLM are locking up Utah’s future

By Anastasia Swearingen

First Published Jun 14 2014 12:37 pm • Last Updated Jun 16 2014 03:33 pm

Editor’s note: This commentary originally described the author as a senior research analyst for the Environmental Policy Alliance. In fact, Anastasia Swearingen works for the public relations firm Berman and Co., which manages the Environmental Policy Alliance and represents clients in the energy industry.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is using linguistic jiu-jitsu to prevent Utahns from accessing their own lands — and Utah has had enough. Last week, the state joined Uintah County and the Utah Association of Counties in filing suit against BLM for imposing "de facto wilderness management" on land that doesn’t bear a wilderness designation, thereby barring access.

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Bean-counting bureaucrats at BLM keep more than two-thirds of Utah’s lands under lock and key, restricting economic development to the sliver not under federal control. For the feds, it’s all about power — control the keys, control the kingdom. For the rest of us, limiting investment and development on valuable Western lands deprives Utahns and all Americans of vast economic potential, especially energy production.

The feds should have turned over the keys a long time ago. A recent report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) underscores just how much Western states are missing out on America’s energy bonanza. Between 2009 and 2013, oil and natural gas production soared on state and private lands by 61 percent and 33 percent, respectively. Over the same period on federal lands, oil production declined 6 percent while natural gas output dropped 29 percent.

Regulatory morass explains why it is so much more burdensome for entrepreneurs to do business with the federal government. In 2012, it took 228 days for the BLM to process a permit to drill on federal lands, up from 154 days in 2005 — a 48 percent jump, according to the Institute for Energy Research. By comparison, it took North Dakota just 10 days to process similar permits to drill on state lands. The longer it takes companies to get a permit to drill, the less likely they are to drill.

It’s not a question of limited resources, but of political preferences. Even as the BLM slow-walks oil and gas permits, it fast-tracks green energy projects to appease the Obama administration’s environmental allies. For instance, the Sierra Club urges the BLM to allow "no new fracking on federal lands." Meanwhile, the Natural Resources Defense Council has called on the BLM to "maximize energy efficiency and renewable energy development" as "solutions to limiting harmful fracking activities" on federal lands.

Thanks to BLM and radical green groups, oil and gas production is declining on federal lands amid the largest domestic energy boom in U.S. history. Technological advancements in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have made America the world’s largest combined oil and gas producer, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia. This boom, however, is occurring only on lands not controlled by federal bureaucrats.

The truth is that BLM and radical environmentalists have prevented Western states from reaping enormous economic benefits. A recent study from Professor Timothy Considine found that seven Western states — Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Nevada, and Idaho — would have gained between $9.5 billion and $26 billion in annual gross regional product, between $2.4 billion and $5.1 billion in annual tax revenue, and between 67,000 and 208,000 regional jobs. That is, if it weren’t for the de facto moratorium on domestic energy production.

Who’s to say bureaucrats in Washington can do a better job regulating land development than those with local knowledge and personal investment? Or, as Uintah County’s attorney Constance Brooks recently argued in federal court, "…you have to consult with local government. Something is out of whack here."

Anastasia Swearingen works for the public relations firm Berman and Co., which manages the Environmental Policy Alliance and represents clients in the energy industry.


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