Zinke orders BLM to revise planning and NEPA processes

By Rachel Schadegg

©Bureau of Land Management

On Mar. 27, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued a memo directing the Bureau of Land Management to revise and improve its processes for land use planning and environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Zinke’s order was issued on the same day that President Trump signed H.J.Res. 44, a joint resolution overturning BLM’s Resource Management Planning Rule (commonly referred to as “Planning 2.0”), which was finalized in December 2016.

In the memo, Zinke expressed concerns over frequent delays and complications in BLM’s execution of land use plan development and environmental reviews. He also highlighted what he considers a lack of adequate local, state, tribal, and public input in the decisionmaking process and excessive costs.

“The feedback I have received from many of our state and local partners and the public is that the system is broken, unnecessarily lengthy and burdensome, and does not produce the result demanded by the American people. The result demanded is to have an effective, efficient, and transparent process that 1) takes less time, 2) costs less money, and 3) is more responsive to local needs,” Zinke said.

In response to this feedback and the nullification of Planning 2.0, Zinke is ordering BLM to “take a hard look at all aspects of the planning process, including challenges with NEPA.” He has laid out several criteria for potential improvements, including increasing partnerships with local governments and stakeholders; avoiding complications posed by appeals and litigation when possible; and minimizing “duplicative and disproportionate analyses.”

Zinke is also requesting that BLM’s analysis include an explanation of how future rulemaking will meet the new criteria. A report containing the full analysis, potential improvements, and future regulatory or legislative recommendations will be submitted to Zinke within six months of Mar. 27.

Planning 2.0 aimed to streamline BLM’s administrative processes for land use planning and prioritized landscape-scale planning, adaptability, and public input. Some members of Congress, such as Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who introduced the joint resolution to repeal Planning 2.0, viewed it as a demonstration of federal overreach that took power out of the hands of local governing bodies.

In February, The Wildlife Society signed on to a letter in support of Planning 2.0 implementation. The letter, addressed to the leading members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, emphasized the rule’s potential to increase federal agency transparency and incorporate best land use planning practices while involving state and local governments in the planning process.

Rachel Schadegg is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Government Affairs & Partnership program. Read more of Rachel's articles here.