Presidential memo on natural resources stimulates concerns for ag industryWritten by Saige Albert
President Barack Obama issued a memorandum to the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Nov. 3 directing a more streamlined approach toward mitigation of impacts resulting from natural resources development.
“We all have a moral obligation to the next generation to leave America’s natural resources in better condition than when we inherited them,” Pres. Obama wrote in the memo. “It is this same obligation that contributes to the strength of our economy and quality of life today.”
Inside the memo
While the President noted that each agency within the memo would be responsible for avoiding and minimizing harm to land, water, wildlife and other resources, he also emphasized that the approach should be consistent between agencies.
“Wherever possible, policies should operate similarly across agencies and be implemented consistently within them,” the memo reads.
At the same time, Pres. Obama directed that private investment should be promoted in both restoration and enhancement of natural resources.
The memo additionally directed the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Department of the Interior to develop handbooks or manuals within their agencies to implement the actions.
From the industry
Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna comments, “There is a lot of rhetoric in the memo that likely masks the real impacts that will be associated with implementation.”
He continues, “The underlying principles of avoidance, minimization and compensation are generally sound and already being practiced at both the state and federal levels. While the stated outcomes of ‘added predictability, efficient and timely environmental reviews’ are laudable, if achieved, they would mark a complete reversal of the costly project delays that have to date marked the current administration.”
However, Magagna also noted that several new concepts cause him concern.
“When we talk about consistency and making sure BLM does things the same way in every state, or that every BLM, Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service offices does things that same way, we have to ask – what does that do to the ability of local folks to make decisions that truly reflect the realities on the ground?” Magagna says. “It is a two-way street.”
While the memo also indicates a goal to increase private investment, Magagna notes that the tenor of the document, as well as prior actions of the Administration, cause concern that the goal would be implemented through mandated action rather than by encouraging willing investors.
The memo also lays out a series of definitions within the context of development of natural resources, including “advance compensation” and “durability.”
“The definition of ‘advance compensation’ as ‘environmental benefits achieved before a project’s harmful impacts occur’ is concerning. Does this go beyond concurrent mitigation, which is the current standard for most mitigation projects?” asks Magagna.
The definition of durability, he continues, is consistent with current definitions, where mitigation needs to at least equal the length of the impact. However, he further noted that the document calls for agencies to address “the resilience of the measures’ benefits to potential future environmental change.”
The directive suggests that agencies should consider climate change in their actions, which is “always a concern,” says Magagna.
Two days after the memo was released, the Department of the Interior has issued a new chapter to its manual to establish policy and provide guidance in achieving the goals outlined in the Presidential Memorandum.
In addition to mandating the mitigation hierarch and landscape scale approaches of the Memorandum, the manual includes an entire section addressing “Climate Change Impacts and Resilience.”
“The memo is a nice sounding but nebulous document,” Magagna mentiones. “The key is in how it is implemented.”
Members of Congress and other organizations are evaluating the memorandum.
He continued, “It is being analyzed, and we are trying to determine what the implications might be.”
To read the entirety of the Presidential Memorandum, visit whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/11/03/mitigating-impacts-natural-resources-development-and-encouraging-related.