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Context of 'January 23, 2004: Subsidies Announced for Gas Drilling in Gulf of Mexico'

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The Department of Interior informs Congress that it has decided to settle a lawsuit filed years ago by the state of Utah over the Bureau of Land Management’s policy of rejecting drilling and mining projects in areas under review for wilderness protection. The decision withdraws protected status for 3 million acres of land in Utah. Without designation as a Wilderness Area, portions of the Red Rock Canyons in southern Utah could be open to logging, oil and gas drilling, mineral extraction, road-building and other development. A federal appeals court had previously ruled against the state on all but one count and consequently the lawsuit’s status had been moribund since 1998. [USA Today, 4/11/2003] But in March, Utah made an amendment to its complaint, thus reopening the case and providing the Bush administration with an opportunity to make a “settlement.” Environmental groups say the settlement is the outcome of a deal made between Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Utah Governor Mike Leavitt behind closed-doors. [USA Today, 4/11/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 4/20/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 5/6/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 6/18/2003; Wilderness Society, 4/28/2004] In addition to the settlement, the Bush administration stops congressional reviews of Western lands for wilderness protection, capping wilderness designation at 22.8 million acres nationwide. [USA Today, 4/11/2003]

Entity Tags: US Congress, US Department of Interior, Mike Leavitt, Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Interior Secretary Gale Norton signs a legal opinion by Deputy Solicitor Roderick Walston reversing the interpretation of the agency’s previous solicitor-general, John Leshy, who had ruled in 1996 that the 1872 Mining Law limits each 20-acre mining claim on federal land to a single five-acre waste site. As a result of Norton’s decision, mining companies will be permitted to dump unlimited amounts of toxic waste on public lands, threatening surrounding waterways, wildlife, and the health of local human populations. The Bush administration and the mining industry have argued that the Clinton-era opinion caused a significant reduction in US minerals exploration, mine development and mining jobs since 1997. “It created an atmosphere of uncertainty and when you are making investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, uncertainty is not something you want to face,” explains Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson. “We anticipate we will now see more development and exploration for mining.” The decision was praised by the mining industry. “This is good news,L Russ Fields, executive director of the Nevada Mining Association. “The old opinion did create a lot of uncertainty for our industry.” [Associated Press, 10/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton, John Leshy, Roderick Walston

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announces that the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) will provide an estimated $1 billion in subsidies to promote deep drilling for natural gas in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Companies that drill wells deeper than 15,000 feet will be exempt from having to pay royalties on the first 15 billion cubic feet of gas produced. For wells deeper than 18,000 feet, royalties will be waived on the first 25 billion cubic feet. The royalty waiver will be discontinued if natural gas prices exceed $9.34 per thousand cubic feet. Without the subsidy, it would be too costly for companies to drill such wells. Norton claims that the program will save consumers money and create an estimated 26,000 new jobs. [Associated Press, 1/23/2003; Petroleum News, 2/1/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton, US Department of Interior

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Secretary of Interior Gale Norton resigns. In her resignation letter to President Bush she thanks him and praises him for “great work in the face of hurricanes, record-setting wildfires and droughts, acrimonious litigation, and expanded post 9/11 security responsibilities.” [CNN, 3/10/2006] Norton, who has been criticized by environmental groups for opening public lands up to timber (see December 11, 2002), mining, and oil and gas interests (see April 11, 2003, October 8, 2003, and January 21, 2004), will be hired as a key legal advisor for Royal Dutch Shell PLC in December. [New West, 12/27/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Royal Dutch/Shell, Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

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