Public lands may be tapped for energy |

Public lands may be tapped for energy

DENVER (AP) – President Bush says his administration will look at ”all public lands” for energy development, noting particularly that national monuments can accommodate drilling rigs.

”There are parts of the monument lands where we can explore without affecting the overall environment,” Bush said in an interview with The Denver Post. ”The integral part, the precious part, so to speak … will not be despoiled.”

The president said the decision will be based, in part, on a ”cost-benefit ratio.”

”There are some monuments where the land is so widespread, they just encompass as much as possible. And the integral part, the precious part, so to speak … will not be despoiled.”

Bush’s comments have alarmed the environmental community.

”There’s a mentality that says you can’t explore and protect land,” Bush said. ”We’re going to change that attitude. You can explore and protect land.”

His comments were echoed Thursday on Capitol Hill by Republicans lawmakers.

”Let’s face it, our mounting energy needs and skyrocketing consumer prices mandate an energy policy that includes increased exploration for gas and oil,” said House Resources Committee Chairman Jim Hansen, R-Utah. ”Some of our public lands – including some of the monuments – are ideally suited to environmentally sound drilling.”

A memo released Thursday by aides to GOP Rep. Barbara Cubin of Wyoming, head of the energy and mineral resources subcommittee, said public lands and outer continental shelves represent the best ”hunting ground” for new discoveries of federally owned mineral resources.

Her staff complained in the memo that the Forest Service and the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management often fail to forecast oil and gas development in their land-use plans.

”As a result, inordinate delays in obtaining permits for drilling and mining occur because plans must be redone to analyze the cumulative impacts of oil and gas development,” Cubin’s staff wrote. ”Meanwhile, the nation goes without new sources of natural gas and citizens everywhere pay the price.”

Environmentalists said Bush’s plans for public lands represent extremism in the service of oil companies.

”We are dismayed that he is now talking about turning the oil industry loose on virtually all the lands in our national forests, national wildlife refuges and other public systems,” said Wilderness Society president William H. Meadows.

Others said they were stunned by the bluntness of Bush’s language.

”Cost-benefit analysis? That’s not what national parks and monuments are about,” said Melanie Griffin, director of land protection programs for the Sierra Club. ”You’d think he’d at least try to disguise his agenda, since it’s not a popular one.”

Bush, a former oilman, was bitterly opposed by environmentalists in the 2000 election. He was supported by the energy and natural resources industry, which contributed $2.8 million to his campaign.

Since winning the election, he has taken on the environmental lobby several times, most notably with the appointment of former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton, a champion of Western industry, to run the Interior Department.

Bush also has repeatedly pointed to the energy crunch in California as proof of the need to increase oil, gas and coal production in the United States.

Bush drove the point home Tuesday by abandoning his biggest environmental campaign pledge to force carbon-dioxide emission reductions at power plants.

National monuments have been an important issue in the West since 1996, when President Clinton created Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. The move surprised and outraged many Western Republicans, who accused Clinton of locking up land without consulting local residents.

Critics of the Utah monument acknowledge that there are natural treasures on the site but stress that there are also vast coal reserves.

After Grand Staircase, Clinton created or expanded 20 more monuments, including one in Colorado called Canyons of the Ancients near Mesa Verde National Park.

Bush criticized Clinton for the monument designations during the campaign, saying he should have consulted more with locals. Vice President Dick Cheney even suggested the monuments be repealed.

But Western Republicans have shied away from that. They are still seething over the way Clinton created the monuments, but they are also mindful that they were popular nationwide.

Instead, Norton and congressional Republicans are talking about moving back boundaries and allowing more uses without tearing down the ”monument” signs.

AP-WS-03-15-01 2250EST

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