Trump administration proposes easing oil and gas permitting in national forests

(Reuters) - The Trump administration on Monday issued a proposal that would make it easier to permit oil and gas drilling operations in national forests, angering environmental groups who said the move would harm wildlife and increase greenhouse gas emissions.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing at Lake Charles Fire House as he visits nearby areas damaged by Hurricane Laura in Lake Charles, Louisiana, U.S., August 29, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

The U.S. Forest Service, an arm of the Department of Agriculture that oversees 192 million acres of national forests and grasslands, released proposed rules that would speed timelines for approving drilling leases and permits and for determining which lands are available to lease.

The proposal is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, but a version was posted on a government website on Monday.

Forest Service officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Forest Service first said in 2018 that it planned to rewrite some of its rules to expedite oil and gas permits on forest lands. The moves are part of President Donald Trump’s efforts to boost fossil fuel production on public lands and waters.

The changes would make the leasing and permitting processes more efficient by reducing redundant procedures and would better align Forest Service regulations with those of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which is primarily responsible for managing oil and gas drilling on public lands, the document said.

Environmental groups said the new rules would sidestep environmental reviews and reduce public involvement in the leasing process.

“This proposal would basically make the Forest Service a rubber stamp for the fossil fuel industry,” said Michael Saul, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Oil production from wells on forest system lands accounted for 0.6% of the nation’s total in 2018, the document said. Oil and gas leases cover about 4 million acres, or 2% of forest service lands.

The public will be able to comment on the proposal before it is finalized.

Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Leslie Adler