Op-ed: GOP misleads Americans on energy and public lands

Paul Ryan makes blatantly false claims about energy development

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The proposed GOP budget includes plans to sell off public lands in the West. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — After licking his wounds for a few months, former Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is picking up right where he left off, by misleading Americans about the Obama administration’s energy and public lands policies.

Most blatantly, Ryan this week wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the Obama administration is “buying up land to prevent further development” of energy resources. “Our budget opens these lands to development, so families will have affordable energy,” he added, playing to the lowest common denominator of his conservative base as if he were still campaigning for office.

Ryan’s simplistic and false statement about the connection between public lands and energy costs is flat-out wrong. Domestic energy production has grown under Obama; the administration has been leasing land for onshore production and selling offshore leases at a vigorous rate. Continue reading

Feds plan Arctic energy science push

The Arctic holds plenty of oil, but the risks of energy development in the region are great.

New working group aims to coordinate scientific info for regional drilling plans

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Facing criticism for its approval of oil drilling in the Arctic, the Obama administration is boosting the role of science in resource management decisions regarding both onshore and offshore energy development activities in Alaska.

A new Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska is intended to function as a scientific clearinghouse for decision-makers and the public and is supposed to develop a  framework for an integrated approach to evaluating potential infrastructure development in the Alaskan Arctic. Continue reading

Feds tout progress on Everglades restoration

Massive investments aimed at restoring flows, protecting habitat

The Everglades — river of grass. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The northern Everglades watershed, where Florida’s freshwater begins it’s long, gradual downhill slide through the marshy tip of the peninsula to the sea, is getting some more help.

The Obama administration last week committed $80 million to support farmers and ranchers who voluntarily conserve wetlands on agricultural land in the watershed.

The funding could help restore 23,000 acres of wetlands vital to water quality and wildlife habitat in the greater Everglades ecosystem, including the endangered Florida panther. Continue reading

Forest Service to cut reviews on restoration projects

Road restoration projects could be approved under a streamlined review process.

Obliteration of old roads, dam removals would be OK’d under categorical exclusions

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The U.S. Forest Service wants to speed restoration of national forest lands by streamlining the approval process for removing dams, and cleaning up debris and sediment and for reclaiming closed roads.

Under the proposal, now open for public comments, projects in those categories could be approved under a categorical exclusion, a type of review that isn’t nearly as extensive as an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement — all outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality recently issued guidance for the use of categorical exclusions. The CEQ concluded:

“Categorical exclusions have become the most frequently employed method of complying with NEPA. The extensive and expanding use of categorical exclusions underscores the need for clarifying guidance. Categorical exclusions are appropriate in many circumstances but should not be relied on if they thwart the purposes of NEPA, compromising the quality and transparency of agency decisionmaking or the opportunity for meaningful public participation. The guidance is designed to ensure that agencies appropriately and transparently establish and use categorical exclusions.”

Under the Obama administration, Forest Chief Chief Tom Tidwell has made restoration a big priority. The agency says the proposed rule change will enable more efficient implementation of projects to improve water flow and restore land and habitat. Continue reading

Energy: Too much public land leasing – or not enough?

Gulf of Mexico offshore oil rigs and tracts.

Report shows that energy companies are not maximizing production and exploration in areas already under lease

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Illustrating some of the vexing questions associated with energy development on public lands, the Obama administration this week released a report that details how oil and gas companies aren’t developing the leases, and at the same time, offered new leases for oil shale research and development and details on new offshore drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s probably not surprising that the administration is trying to straddle the fence. Despite the fact that domestic oil and gas production are near or at record highs, President Obama is facing a constant barrage of politically motivated criticism directed at his energy policies that cynically use high gas prices as a clumsy and well-worn political weapon. Continue reading

Travel: U.S. finalizes ambitious national tourism strategy

Administration aims to boost visits to U.. by 50 percent

New Orleans is a top tourism destination in the U.S.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — After working together with key players in the travel and hospitality industries, the Obama administration this week delivered the final version of a National Tourism and Travel Strategy aimed at boosting international travel to the U.S. by 50 percent in the next 10 years.

The ambitious goal would lead to additional spending of $250 billion per year, helping to creat jobs and spur economic growth across the country. It’s the first time that the highest levels of the U.S. government have recognized the potential of tourism as an economic engine.

By some estimates, travel supports more than 14.4 million American jobs and contributes $1.9 trillion to our economy — and travel exports have been booming. Travel exports totaled a record $152 billion in 2011, and the travel industry is now the number one contributor to the country’s balance of trade. Continue reading

Colorado: Reactions vary on new roadless rule

Outdoor industry, conservation groups call for broader protection, mining group says state version will save jobs

Roadless wrangling continues, but state rule is almost finalized.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — While state and federal officials tout the collaboration that went into developing a new rule for managing roadless areas on Colorado’s national forest lands, the fact is that they were never able to fully reach a consensus with all the stakeholders.

That leaves the rule potentially vulnerable to a legal challenge and also leaves the management agencies open to criticism from powerful stakeholders, including the Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association, representing more than 4,000 companies involved in making and selling outdoor gear.

The trade group is fully aligned with a broad coalition of conservation groups, which represent thousands of outdoor enthusiasts, and they’re all saying the same thing: Colorado’s cherished wild places deserve the highest level of protection, not the watered down guidelines in the state plan that potentially leave almost 3 million acres open to disturbance. Continue reading

Opinion: House GOP renews energy witch hunt

Instead of focusing on the environmental damage done by fossil fuel extractions, Republicans in Congress are nitpicking about procedural reports related to oil and coal development.

Resources committee to consider issuing subpoenas on mining stream buffers, Gulf drilling moratorium

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —The radical anti-environmental leaders of the House Natural Resources Committee last week announced the latest chapter of their anti-Obama witch hunt, scheduling a March 28 full committee meeting to discuss possible subpoenas related to coal mining stream protections and a moratorium on Gulf of Mexico oil drilling.

At issue are two efforts by the Obama administration to raise environmental standards. To try and protect streams and riparian areas from the ravages of coal mining, the interior department set out to rewrite a stream buffer zone rule. Continue reading

New Gulf of Mexico oil lease sale announced

A NASA satellite image shows the oil slick from the Deepwater Horizon disaster spreading across the northern Gulf of Mexico in late May, 2010.

Meanwhile, oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster still causing environmental impacts

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Proposed new deep-water leases off the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama could yield 1 billion barrels of oil and 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the Obama administration, announcing a June 20 lease sale in New Orelans.

The sale will include all available unleased areas in the Central Planning Area offshore Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Minimum bids for the deepwater leases will be set at $100 per acre, administration officials said, after an economic analysis showed that leases sold for less than that amount saw virtually no exploration and development drilling during the past 15 years.

Conservation groups have been critical of new lease sales in the Gulf, pointing out that some areas that have already been leased haven’t been explored yet. There are lingering concerns that the administration hasn’t done nearly enough to protect the environment in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which marred the Gulf with 5 million gallons of crude oil spreading across nearly 4,000 square miles of the Gulf — the largest oil spill ever. Continue reading

2011: ‘Swift and steady’ progress on renewable energy

Obama administration continues unprecedented push to shift energy paradigm away from fossil fuels

Wind power infrastructure growing along East Coast.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —The Obama administration may have stumbled in a few areas in 2011, but stayed on a roll in the energy sector by approving several new large-scale renewable projects and laying the planning groundwork for many more.

The renewable energy developments are not without some detractors and controversy, but the administration — led by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar —  is making good on promises to drag the country, kicking and screaming if need be, into a renewable energy future.

Last week the Interior Department announced approval of two more utility scale projects — one wind and one solar — that, when built, will generate nearly 500 megawatts of power, or enough to power 150,000 homes, and create 700 jobs during peak construction. Continue reading

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