- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 17, 2015

House Republicans are calling out the Interior Department for delaying a recent spate of oil-and-gas lease sales, accusing the department of kowtowing to pressure from environmentalists.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Dec. 7 decision to postpone lease sales of 507 acres in Arkansas and Michigan until March follows the delay of a 37,500-acre lease sale in Utah after protests by environmental activists.

“Both postponements appear to be precipitated by attempts by environmental groups to disrupt and burden the lawful activities of the BLM,” said the Wednesday letter to Interior Assistant Secretary Janice Schneider. “These latest postponements are troubling; particularly since the total number of new leases issued each year has fallen by 57% since 2008.”

The letter, signed by 15 House Republicans representing oil-and-gas-producing states, pointed out that under the Mineral Leasing Act, the BLM is required to hold oil-and-gas lease sales quarterly “for each state where eligible lands are available,” but that only Wyoming has done so over the past two years.

“This is a near universal failure by the BLM to uphold its statutory duties,” the letter said.

Signers, who asked Ms. Schneider to reply by Jan. 5, were led by House Natural Resources Committee chairman Rob Bishop and Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz.

The Utah sale, scheduled for Nov. 17, was postponed over problems with accommodating the large number of interested attendees, including environmental activists, but the House Republicans said that sales may also be conducted online.

“There are no statutory requirements to allow observers or the general public to attend these types of sales,” the letter said.

Environmental groups have recently targeted oil-and-gas lease sales as part of the “Keep It in the Ground” movement aimed at eliminating extraction of oil, natural gas and coal in the name of combating global warming.

“The ‘Keep It in the Ground’ movement is only getting stronger, and the Obama administration is going to face more and larger protests for auctioning off federal fossil fuels to the highest bidder,” said Center for Biological Diversity’s Taylor McKinnon in a statement after the Dec. 7 postponement.

The House Republicans also encouraged Interior officials to seek fines and prison terms against those who organize or participate in any attempt to “circumvent or defeat” the Mineral Leasing Act, according to the letter.

The number of leased acres has fallen by 12.6 million since 2008, according to the letter, although the recent drop in oil and natural gas prices has contributed to a drop-off in drilling.

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