U.S. to stop taking payments from drillers, miners for damage to public land

(Reuters) - The Trump administration on Tuesday said it would no longer require oil drillers, miners and other industries to compensate for damage they cause to public lands under their permitted projects, in a bid to speed up development on federal lands.

Slideshow ( 3 images )

The move, the latest effort by the administration to help businesses by rolling back environmental protections, was announced in a memo from the Department of Interior to Bureau of Land Management officials.

“The BLM must not require compensatory mitigation from public land users,” the memo said.

Interior spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort confirmed the policy change and said industries had paid $152 million for compensatory mitigation to both BLM and approved third parties since 2008.

Compensatory mitigation is defined as any activity, payment or action focused on an area that is intended to offset damage to another area where permitted activity is under way.

For instance, a mining company might pay to establish habitat conservation areas in exchange for expanding its operations on other public lands.

Until now, the United States has required companies to provide compensatory mitigation.

In the memo, BLM said it would still consider voluntary proposals for compensatory mitigation and said it would not authorize activity that causes unnecessary harm.

Environmentalists portrayed the move as a handout to industry.

“This is the latest dismal action by (Interior) Secretary Zinke and the Trump administration to put special interests ahead of our natural heritage,” Center for Biological Diversity Government Affairs Director Brett Hartl said in an email. “It is deeply out of touch with the values of all Americans that support a healthy environment and vibrant wildlife communities.”

The move comes less than a week after the Trump administration proposed changes to the U.S. Endangered Species Act that conservation groups slammed as an assault on wildlife protections.

Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Diane Craft