FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The Bureau of Land Management has taken sensible steps to balance oil and gas leasing with conservation in the West, the son of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said yesterday.
Donald Trump Jr., who is an avid hunter, said BLM also should have some role in the regulation of hydraulic fracturing on federal lands, in spite of a federal judge’s ruling this week that the agency lacks congressional authority to regulate the controversial oil and gas production technique (EnergyWire, June 22).
The younger Trump was speaking before the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s annual media summit in Fort Collins, Colo., a day after fishing the Cache La Poudre River with the conservation group’s CEO.
Speaking as a surrogate for his father, Trump addressed a host of natural resource policy issues including the Endangered Species Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund and Hillary Clinton’s duck hunting experience.
His remarks on BLM’s oil and gas program seemed to contrast with the Republican establishment.
In May 2010, the Obama administration introduced sweeping oil and gas leasing reforms designed to keep drilling further from national parks, recreation areas and wildlife habitat. The policy was enthusiastically supported by sportsmen’s conservation groups including TRCP but widely criticized by industry groups that argued it curbed drilling opportunities on public lands.
Trump, who is a key adviser to his father on natural resource issues, appeared supportive of BLM’s policy (E&E Daily, May 12).
"Of the ones that I’m aware of, I think, you know, certainly protecting high value areas, protecting the national parks, I mean, I think all of that makes a lot of sense," Trump said. "I’m not aware of anything that’s, you know, very flagrant in there that we’d want to roll back."
That’s a far cry from the position of many Republicans on Capitol Hill who have advanced legislation to block or weaken the BLM reforms.
"We do have to preserve those lands, and I think what I’ve seen thus far has been very reasonable," he said. "I think we’ve worked, you know, pretty well to ensure we have the ability to … drill and frack, you know, where it makes sense and to take advantage of the, you know, the great natural resources that we have."
When asked about BLM’s hydraulic fracturing rule, which on Tuesday was struck down by a federal judge in Cheyenne, Wyo., less than an hour’s drive north of here, Trump said the rule was outside of his expertise.
But he did say BLM "should be involved" in regulating fracking, which occurs at roughly 90 percent of wells drilled on public lands.
"I think they have to be involved certainly as it pertains to the lands that they are overseeing," he said.
His remarks came just a day after Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), an energy adviser to the Trump campaign, called BLM’s rule an "egregious federal overreach" and praised Judge Scott Skavdahl’s ruling.
"His opinion made very clear when in 2005 Congress specifically removed the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate hydraulic fracturing, it did not intend for the BLM to instead have this authority," Cramer said.
Just a month ago, the elder Trump lambasted Democratic presidential primary contenders Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for their public rejection of hydraulic fracturing, saying he would curtail "policies that impose unwarranted restrictions on new drilling technologies" (E&E Daily, May 27).
Some saw that as a reference to BLM’s hydraulic fracturing rule, which would regulate well construction, wastewater management and chemical disclosure for fracking on public and tribal lands.
Yet his 38-year-old son appears to have a softer position. Or it’s possible the BLM leasing and fracking rules haven’t risen on his radar.
Trump Jr. reiterated yesterday that he’ll be a "very, very loud voice" in his father’s ear if he wins the White House. While he has expressed interest in being Interior secretary in a Trump administration, he said yesterday he’s not sure if he’s "qualified" to do it.
The Trump campaign’s position on the ownership of federal lands and its lack of specificity on drilling access continue to worry some Republicans and energy industry officials.
"The Trump campaign needs to get better advice about Western public lands issues," said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for the Denver-based Western Energy Alliance, a regional trade group that advocates for public lands drilling. "Hunting and fishing, while an important part of the West, is just one aspect of complex public lands issues."
Sgamma criticized the younger Trump’s decision to speak at TRCP, a group she accused of pushing a "liberal environmental agenda."
"The comments about the BLM fracking rule also show he needs to spend more time with energy leaders and Rep. Kevin Cramer, who is advising the campaign," she said. "If he did so, he would understand that Western states have been successfully regulating fracking for years, without a single incident on public lands."
But Whit Fosburgh, CEO at TRCP, said Trump took a reasonable stance on BLM’s leasing reforms, which place more scrutiny on where it’s appropriate to drill.
The pace of federal leasing in the West has fallen to record lows under the Obama administration as companies flocked to unconventional drilling plays on private lands and as the price of oil and gas has plummeted.
Trump’s response was "a very pragmatic answer to … a pretty pragmatic policy, which is really sort of trying to figure out in advance how we do this better and minimize conflicts," Fosburgh said.
Wolves, climate change, rifles
Trump yesterday also addressed questions about Endangered Species Act, BLM’s management of sage grouse and Clinton’s qualifications as a hunter.
He said it’s time to have a "conversation" about whether Congress should intervene to remove ESA protections for the gray wolf in Wyoming and the Great Lakes states.
House and Senate appropriators included policy riders in their fiscal 2017 Interior spending bills mandating the delisting of wolves, though Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe last week said the administration remains opposed to congressional intervention in listing decisions.
FWS delisted wolves in the Great Lakes in 2011 and Wyoming in 2012, but a pair of federal district court rulings invalidated both rules. FWS has appealed both decisions.
Trump said wolves are fully recovered and are having harmful effect on species sportsmen hunt like elk and moose. He said he’s worried federal judges lack the expertise to render decisions on wildlife issues.
"There’s a time you have to revisit it," he said. "And it if takes Congress to do that because nobody else is doing it, or people are influenced by one extreme side’s agenda, I think it’s time to have that conversation."
On climate change, Trump said he was skeptical whether human activities are to blame.
"You certainly see weather patterns that are shifting," he said. "Whether that’s caused by industry or whether it’s caused by, you know, whatever, over time, I think has probably yet to be shown to me."
Trump said he supports the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a top priority for sportsmen of all political stripes. The 50-year-old program that facilitates the purchase of new federal lands to enhance recreational access has come under fire from fiscal conservatives in Congress who say the federal lands agencies are doing a poor job maintaining the lands they already have.
The Trump campaign remains committed to keeping federal lands in federal ownership, Trump said — though he added that states need a more active role in managing them and said state ownership might make sense in certain circumstances if public access could be guaranteed.
Trump said he’s also encouraged that Interior was able to garner "bipartisan" support from Western states to avert an ESA listing for the greater sage grouse.
FWS last September found the charismatic bird did not warrant protections thanks to new conservation plans crafted by BLM and the Forest Service, which manage most of the bird’s remaining habitat, and significant new federal funding to preserve privately owned habitat.
But the federal land-use plans are being challenged in court by oil and gas, mining and grazing groups, Western counties and the states of Idaho and Utah, which have argued they are too restrictive.
Trump said he supports a "happy medium" that saves the bird and enables energy independence, though he refrained from criticizing the federal land-use plans.
ESA does not have to be dismantled, Trump said, though he didn’t rule out the need for changes.
"I think the Endangered Species Act has done some great things," he said. "But I also think that at times it’s been used as a Trojan horse to [advance] other agendas that probably don’t have as much to do with the species in question as the people pushing their agendas would like everyone else to believe."
He took a parting shot at Clinton’s hunting credentials.
"The other candidate… talks about her great experiences growing up duck hunting with a rifle," he said. "Now, I’m a pretty good shot, but I’m not shooting ducks with a rifle. So maybe she’s a lot better than me."
Ducks are hunted with shotguns.
It’s not clear whether Clinton ever claimed to hunt ducks with a rifle. During the 2008 presidential race, Clinton spoke about a duck hunting trip in Arkansas where she shot a banded duck. A CBS News article referred to Clinton holding a rifle, though it’s unclear if those were Clinton’s words.
Regardless, Trump Jr. said he takes issue with candidates posing as hunters in hopes of courting the hook-and-bullet crowd. He pledged to stock the federal wildlife agencies with sportsmen or their allies.
"It’s the phoniness, the pandering to a voter bloc pretending to be something you’re not to try to get their vote," he said. "You know, that’s not what this is about to me. Hunting and fishing is my lifestyle."
Clinton’s surrogate to the TRCP media summit, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), will get his chance to respond to Trump’s remarks and other policy issues this morning.