On October 24, 2017, the Department of the Interior (“Interior”) filed its final report summarizing its review of Interior actions that potentially burden the development or use of energy produced in the United States. The review and resulting report were required by President Trump’s Executive Order 13783, which instructs the agencies to pay “particular attention” to any actions that delay or impose additional costs on oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources.

Interior manages energy projects and minerals on Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) lands; oversees coal mining operations; regulates offshore energy development; and generates power at Bureau of Reclamation hydroelectric dams, among other responsibilities.  With eleven bureaus and services that have authority over various energy programs and federal lands, the potential for Interior actions to impact the course of U.S. energy production is significant.

Interior’s report highlights the programmatic approach that is underway to facilitate development of energy resources on public lands.  Seven Secretarial Orders issued by Secretary Zinke appoint personnel and direct Interior’s bureaus to take specific actions to reduce burdens on energy development, including:

  1. Establishing a Counselor to the Secretary to coordinate Interior’s policies and “ensure energy policies receive the highest level attention across Interior” (Secretarial Order 3351)
  2. Revoking a moratorium on coal leasing and directing BLM to expeditiously process applications for leases (Secretarial Order 3348)
  3. Requiring review of actions relating to climate change, oil and gas development, and hydraulic fracturing (Secretarial Order 3349)
  4. Requiring review of actions relating to oil and gas and sulfur leases and to pipeline right-of-ways and easements in the Outer Continental Shelf, as well as offshore air quality rules (Secretarial Order 3350)
  5. Providing for oil and gas development in the National Petroleum Reserve (Secretarial Order 3352)
  6. Establishing a Sage-Grouse Review Team to review sage-grouse plans and policies (Secretarial Order 3353)
  7. Requiring quarterly oil and gas lease sales and improve associated permitting processes (Secretarial Order 3354)

Some actions to implement these directives have already been proposed, such as BLM rules to rescind a hydraulic fracturing rule and temporarily suspend or delay provisions of a “venting and flaring” rule.  However, more actions that could substantially impact energy production are still under consideration – to name only a few, BLM is continuing to review sage-grouse plans and is considering actions to improve land use planning and National Environmental Policy Act policies and procedures; the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is continuing to review oil and gas leasing programs and offshore air quality rules; the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is reviewing rules on well control and artic drilling; the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is working to formally codify President Trump’s disapproval of the Stream Protection Rule and to reduce the time required for states to amend approved Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act regulatory programs.

Notably, few actions outlined in the Interior report aim to lessen burdens on renewable energy production (although the report does note that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering a general permit for incidental take under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and is working to clarify whether the Migratory Bird Treaty Act imposes criminal liability for incidental take by industrial activities).  While the current administration’s stated goal is to increase domestic energy production, the Interior report makes it clear that this largely means to increase domestic energy production from oil, natural gas, and coal.