Environmentalists and Colorado officials are up in arms over the Bush Administration's rush to set leasing regulations for oil shale development, according to a report from the Associated Press via the Examiner/Denver (We write for the Examiner.) From the article:
Colorado officials and environmentalists are protesting last-minute amendments by the Bush administration that apparently insert controversial regulations into six oil shale research and development leases in Colorado and Utah. The changes, announced Jan. 16, affect leases on 160-acre parcels that eventually could be expanded under a plan opening nearly 2 million acres of federal land to development. The leases were granted in 2006 for research into tapping an estimated 100-year supply of oil locked in rock formations under Colorado, Utah and southwest Wyoming. The amended leases incorporate commercial oil shale regulations approved in November. A coalition of environmental groups has filed two lawsuits challenging the overall plan and regulations, including an initial 5 percent royalty rate they say is too low.
"Talk about a sweetheart deal," said David Abelson, a policy adviser for Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates. "They tried to lock in bargain-basement lease rates at a time when we're suing over the regulations."
Meanwhile President Obama is trying to slow down the process even though the rules have been published in the Federal Register, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times (Jim Tankersley):
Like Bush, Obama took office and immediately froze any federal regulations that were not yet finalized. The move halted a push, announced last week, to strip the gray wolf's endangered status in the Rocky Mountains and the Midwest. It also stopped a pair of controversial air quality rules from taking effect, including one that gave greater leeway to industrial polluters and another that declined to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from oil refineries.
It couldn't stop rules that first were published in the Federal Register and had cleared a statutory waiting period before taking effect -- such as the oil shale regulations, meant to pave the way for development leases in Colorado and Utah. Also unable to be touched was a rule that allows so-called mountaintop mining to fill stream beds with leftover dirt from mineral extraction; and a rule that allows federal agencies to forgo expert advice on whether proposed projects would affect endangered species.
Obama could launch a new rule-making process to eventually supplant any of the Bush rules, but that could take months or years to complete. More immediately, he could ask Congress to exercise a little-used law that would allow it to overturn any of the late-registered Bush decisions or to prohibit federal agencies from spending money to implement those rules. The administration could also drop its opposition to several environmentalist lawsuits challenging the Bush rules, signaling to the industry that the rules won't stand for long even if upheld in court.
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