The temporary halt of onshore and offshore gas and oil development created by the Biden administration could see a restart in coming weeks.
The Interior Department is planning to make significant steps to begin leasing opportunities again, a court filing said on Tuesday. The decision comes after U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty ordered the pause to end in June 2021. The pause started when President Joe Biden began a halt at the very beginning of his time in office. The case Doughty ruled on had a few Republican state attorneys general as plaintiffs. The group, led by Louisiana’s Attorney General Jeff Landry, complained to the district court judge that the Biden administration and federal government were not moving fast enough to comply with the order.
In response to the plaintiffs’ concerns, the Interior Department said it would take “the programs’ documented deficiencies” into account, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The department is also expected to announce recommendations for how reform of the programs can meet the Biden administration’s climate change goals.
NPR called the original executive order that halted leasing to slow down the United States’ contribution to climate change “much-anticipated.” The move began as one of many efforts to address the worsening climate issues. During press conferences regarding the executive action, Biden reiterated that he does not plan to ban fracking during his presidency.
The Trump Administration finalized the replacement of another Obama-era environmental regulation last week. Under the Clean Water Act, the 2015 “Waters of the United States” rule placed limits on polluting chemicals that could be used near streams, wetlands, and other bodies of water.
The rule, which impacted farmers, rural landowners, and real estate developers, was repealed in September of last year. President Trump has called it “one of the worst examples of federal” overreach, and now has replaced it with the “Navigable Waters Protection Rule.”
This rule limits federally regulated waters to four categories: the territorial seas and traditional navigable waters; perennial and intermittent tributaries to those waters; certain lakes, ponds, and impoundments; and wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters. It also excludes from federal jurisdiction wetlands, previously converted cropland, and waste treatment systems.
Spokesmen for the American Farm Bureau Federation and the American Gas Association celebrated the new rule for its limiting of federal power. Environmental groups have warned, however, that the change could put the drinking water of millions of Americans at risk of contamination. A panel of government appointed scientists said earlier this month that the rule “neglects established science” by excluding certain bodies of water.
The Trump administration’s proposed rollback of the 2015 Clean Water Rule would reduce federal jurisdiction over wetlands, streams and other small water bodies on Iowa farmland. Some Iowans see the proposal, officially made in mid-December, as a win for farmers, while others see it as a hit to much needed water quality regulation in the state.
Since the start of his term, Pres. Trump has wanted to limit Obama’s 2015 Clean Water Rule, which more clearly defined “Waters of the United States” within the Clean Water Act of 1972. This increased the protected area by about 3 percent (according to an op-ed from Bloomberg News) by adding more streams and neighboring wetlands, ponds and impoundments into federal jurisdiction and reducing those waterbodies that could once be given/denied protection on a “case-by-case” basis.
The current administration proposes removing wetlands without clear surface connection to larger bodies of water from protection, as well as “ephemeral” streams that only flow with rainfall or snowmelt, about 18 percent of the country’s total streams. The proposal is now undergoing 60 days of public comment.
In November, the country already allowed Iowa to halt enforcement of the rule until disagreement over it was settled in court. Most farmers seem to want that allowance made permanent by the Clean Water Rule rollback. The Iowa Farm Bureau shared a statement of support in December after the EPA announced the proposed rollback, and called the Obama Era rule an “overreach.”
As Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst told reporters, “Iowa’s farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and small businesses can now breathe a sigh of relief knowing that going forward a tire track that collects rain water won’t be regulated by the federal government.”
Iowa has serious water quality issues, however, caused for the most part by runoff from farm fields containing harmful nutrients like nitrate and phosphorus. The state recognizes the importance of on-farm streams and wetlands in managing soil and water quality, and encourages the construction of buffers between crops and waterways to minimize runoff into streams or wetlands.
Curt Zingula, a Linn County farmer who uses a saturated buffer on his farm to protect a creek, told theSioux City Journal he is proactive about water quality management, but thinks the Clean Water Rule “cast a shadow” over a landowner’s entire farm.
Others believe the rule was necessary, however, and think the proposed rollback will worsen Iowa’s water problem. A staff editorial in the Gazette called Ernst’s statements “hyperbole” and pushed for more focus on the water itself in the discussions surrounding the proposed rule change.
“If the Trump administration can’t explain how its definition will lead to cleaner water, and all of its related benefits, it should go back to the drawing board,” it reads. “Otherwise, it’s simply replaced Obama’s ‘overreach’ with a dereliction of duty to protect the nation’s waters for future generations.”