A new report has government officials considering setting 10 million acres of across six states in the American west off limits to mining and development to protect the chicken-like Greater Sage Grouse, which is not an endangered species.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report found that much of the Sage Grouse’s habitat sits on top of extremely valuable deposits of minerals including gold, copper, lithium, silver, uranium and many others. The USGS report means that the government’s most restrictive grouse protection plan could kill even more than 31,000 jobs and lead to more than $5.6 billion in reduced annual economic output, estimated by a Western Energy Alliance report.
Federal agencies have already frozen new mining claims across the 10 million acres while they do another environmental impact study.
The Sage Grouse is not listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said the grouse doesn’t need federal protections under the Act for at least the next 4 years. Research from the Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies published in 2015 found that the species’ population had increased by 63 percent over the last two years to a total breeding population of 424,645.
Federal officials previously told state governments to create plans to protect the grouse, but are now going back on their own word to force federal grouse conservation plans which would slow or stop development.
“[Former] Secretary Salazar told the states they should adopt sage grouse protection plans and they would be accepted, ” Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, said in a statement. “States have spent time and money to create good plans. The current Secretary [Sally Jewell] is now reneging on that promise. The state plans work and the department’s proposal does not.”
Jewell’s Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management announced last September that the Greater Sage Grouse would not be listed under the Endangered Species Act, but simultaneously announced restrictions upon oil and natural gas development and other public land users to protect it. These rules triggered a wave of lawsuits from the states of Idaho and Utah as well as several of Nevada’s counties. Additionally, numerous industry groups also joined the lawsuits. Environmental groups have sued as well saying that the restrictions to protect the grouse don’t go far enough.
“Despite successful species conservation efforts at the state level, and a finding last year that listing the bird under the Endangered Species Act is not warranted, the Obama administration wants total regulatory control and a much more permanent trophy for litigious environmental groups,” Bishop continued. “Along with oppressive land use plans covering parts of 10 states—with restrictions for all types of economic activities-these withdrawals have the potential to be even more punitive and damaging to energy producers and rural economies than an endangered finding.”
Due to similar regulations and changing market conditions, mining and coal industries lost tens of thousands of jobs last year alone, according to federal data.
America has 83,000 fewer coal jobs and 400 coal mines than it did when Barack Obama was elected in 2008, showing that the president has followed through on his pledge to “bankrupt” the coal industry. A study published last April found the coal industry lost 50,000 jobs from 2008 to 2012 due to regulations and cheap natural gas. The “coal country” of Appalachia has been economically devastated and has very few job options for the now unemployed workers.