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Interior Unveils Plan to Improve Mitigation Practices

The Department of Interior (DOI) unveiled a strategy for improving mitigation policies and practices on Thursday as it seeks to simultaneously encourage infrastructure development and protect natural and cultural resources.

In a 32-page report DOI listed what it considered mitigation challenges and made mention of air quality effects from oil and gas drilling. The agency said tools exist "for analyzing cumulative impacts from multiple wells and determining whether mitigation is needed on individual operations to avoid exceedances.

DOI also provided some signs of progress and cited the habitat conservation plan (HCP) put in place by NiSource Inc. to mitigate the impacts of pipeline construction and maintenance on dozens of endangered species in 14 states (see Daily GPI, July 15, 2011).

The department said its management bureaus would implement a four-step "landscape approach" to address mitigation efforts, which are to identify key attributes; develop goals and strategies; develop efficient and effective compensatory mitigation programs; and monitor and evaluate progress and make adjustments when needed.

"This strategy outlines the key principles and actions we need to take to successfully shift from a reactive, project-by-project approach to more predictable and effective management of the lands and resources that we manage on behalf of the American public," DOI Secretary Sally Jewell said. "The goal is to provide greater certainty for project developers when it comes to permitting and better outcomes for conservation through more effective and efficient project planning.”

The American Gas Association (AGA) said it supported DOI's new plan on the grounds that it would improve the permitting process for gas drilling and associated projects.

"These reforms will give natural gas utilities more regulatory certainty as they plan infrastructure upgrades, reduce agency costs associated with project reviews and increase landscape-level habitat mitigation techniques that measurably improve environmental protection," said AGA CEO Dave McCurdy. "These reforms will also help natural gas utilities receive timely permits for projects that must be completed in a specific season to minimize environmental impacts, and projects that are time-sensitive for reliability and safety reasons. We look forward to working with the relevant agencies to implement these changes."

Last month, President Obama's proposed budget for fiscal 2015 allocated $11.5 billion to fund DOI, including millions to help facilitate oil and gas development on federal lands both onshore and offshore (Daily GPI, March 4).

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