Trump to Stop Seeking Compensation for Damage to Public Land

(Bloomberg) -- Oil drillers, miners, land developers and others will no longer be required to pay the federal government to offset damage to wildlife and habitats on public land, the Trump administration plans to announce Tuesday.

The Interior Department will no longer require off-site “compensatory mitigation” a policy expanded in the waning days of the Obama administration that mandates developers offset the impacts of their activities on public lands through programs such as funding the restoration and protection of wetlands and other habitats elsewhere.

Environmentalists, who view compensatory mitigation as a long-used common sense practice to minimize the impacts of development on public land, endangered species, and recreational resources, are sure to oppose the move.

“These companies have been asked to pay for the damage they are doing to our public resources on our public lands. And now the Trump administration is saying you don’t need to pay that bill,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, an associate vice president at the National Wildlife Federation. “In the end it looks like another give away for industry at the expense of the American public and wildlife.”

The policy, being issued via an instruction memo Tuesday, comes as the agency has started to roll back parts of the Endangered Species Act as the Trump administration seeks changes to other bedrock environmental laws in a manner long sought by industry.

The change won’t affect “compensatory mitigation” programs at the state level, the department said. The Interior Department says it will still consider environmental impacts in vetting permits.

“We still in every decision we make say ‘Have we avoided impacts? Have we minimized impacts?’” Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in an interview. “We will still do that but when it comes to doing compensatory mitigation off-site we will say that needs to be voluntary.”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been a vocal critic of the policy, which the department says has resulted in the collection of approximately $152 million since 2008. Among his criticisms of the policy is that it requires tens of millions of dollars to “buy off” non-profit groups in order to proceed with project permits. “In many quarters, that’s called extortion,” Zinke said at a Chamber of Commerce event in 2017.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.