E&E News on Colorado Roadless
Here’s a link.
Below is an excerpt.
But the final rule retains exemptions for roads for methane wells needed to allow an expansion of underground coal mining in the North Fork area and allows more flexibility for existing ski areas. And critics say the plan could also allow oil and natural gas drilling in roadless areas in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests and White River National Forest.
Mike Freeman, an Earthjustice staff attorney in Denver, said the group is reviewing the ROD, but he added that it appears the Colorado rule still falls short of the Clinton administration’s rule.
Freeman also said the state plan is unnecessary after the national roadless plan was upheld last year by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court’s decision reversed a Wyoming district court finding that the national rule had created de facto wilderness and violated the National Environmental Policy Act.
“We now have a consistent national approach to managing the 4.2 million acres in Colorado. It’s the law of the land. There’s no reason why Colorado forests should get second-class status and be managed to a less protective standard than the roadless areas in other states,” he said. “The state plan provides less protections for about 75 percent of the roadless areas in this state.”
Mike Anderson, a senior resource analyst with the Wilderness Society, said he’s also concerned about possible drilling in some roadless areas but added that the overall plan is a good one, particularly the 1.2 million acres of upper-tier protections that “highlight some of the more superlative areas of the state for wildlife and recreation, and that is a really good feature.”
Anderson said the Wilderness Society’s focus now will be to work with the Forest Service and state to ensure the new rule is properly implemented.
“There’s definitely pluses and minuses with this rule,” he said.
The issue remains a contentious one. The ROD comes at a time when Western state governments and the mining and oil and gas industries, among others, have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the federal roadless rule and let states like Colorado determine how best to manage these pristine forestlands.
Colorado and Idaho are the only two states to pass state roadless rules under a George W. Bush administration petition plan that was later ruled unlawful.
The Forest Service said in a news release announcing the ROD that “future forest plans and revisions will be consistent with the provisions of the Colorado Roadless Rule.”
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said his state’s roadless rule “reflects the diverse, creative and passionate suggestions contributed by thousands of Coloradans” and should serve as the law of the land for managing roadless areas in the state.
“The rule adds new protections to millions of acres of our state’s cherished national forests,” Hickenlooper said in a statement, “while providing sufficient, targeted flexibility crucial to local economies and communities.”
It’s interesting that this reporter simply says “critics say” And critics say the plan could also allow oil and natural gas drilling in roadless areas in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests and White River National Forest.
However, the actual rule language says section 294.46 b..
Oil and Gas Leases. Oil and gas leases issued within a Colorado Roadless Area after July 3, 2012 will prohibit road construction/reconstruction. The Forest Service shall not authorize the Bureau of Land Management to grant any request for a waiver, exception, or modification to any oil or gas lease if doing so would result in any road construction within a Colorado Roadless Area. For oil and gas leases issued in a Colorado Roadless Area prior to July 3, 2012, the rule preserves any existing leases and surface development rights. The rule also preserves any existing limitations on surface development rights arising from lease terms, lease stipulations, conditions of approval, 36 CFR 228.100, and Onshore Oil and Gas Orders.Show citation box
(c) Oil and Gas Leases on Upper Tier Acres. Oil and gas leases issued within upper tier acres after July 3, 2012 will require a no surface occupancy stipulation. The Forest Service shall not authorize the Bureau of Land Management to grant any request for a waiver, exception, or modification to any oil or gas lease if doing so would result in surface occupancy within an upper tier area.
Which pretty much is the legal status quo for preexisting leases under the 2001 Rule.
For new leases, in upper tier, the Colorado Rule adds protection to 2001 by saying no surface occupancy in addition to no roads. I guess you could argue that that’s not an important additional restriction. But someone must have thought it was or it wouldn’t have been added.
Also the article is unclear when it says “Colorado and Idaho are the only two states to pass state roadless rules under a George W. Bush administration petition plan that was later ruled unlawful.” In addition to them “passing” state roadless rules (it is a federal action), of course, they initiated their efforts under the state petitions rule, but Colorado finalized it under the authority that states have to petition the department. Otherwise it sounds like they are currently working under a rule that had been overturned.