Natural Resources and Environment:

Interior's Program To Review Withdrawn Federal Lands

RCED-83-26: Published: Oct 7, 1982. Publicly Released: Oct 17, 1982.

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Congress required the Department of the Interior to review certain types of federal lands that have been withdrawn by federal agencies from mineral exploration and development. GAO was requested to examine: (1) how Interior is implementing the program to review existing federal withdrawals, and (2) what actions Interior is taking to review withdrawals from lands not formally withdrawn but restricted from mineral exploration and development.

GAO found that the withdrawal reviews, conducted by Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM), could be more consistent with the objectives of Congress and, therefore, more responsive to congressional expectations. Although the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) requires BLM to review requests for land withdrawal, BLM is giving priority to reviewing lands not specified by Congress for review and not closed to mineral entry. Further, GAO found that, although Interior seems intent on opening more federal lands to multiple use, it is allowing management to make decisions to informally withdraw lands from mineral exploration and development. GAO also identified other problems with program implementation which need attention, such as confusion among program officials about the requirement for mineral reports. The program's successful completion may be jeopardized by funding and support problems.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matters for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Congress should enact a line item appropriation for withdrawal review activities to be appropriated to Interior for the use of all federal agencies participating in the withdrawal review program.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress did not consider this to be of high priority during its last session. Congress has not taken any action in the past 4 years and it is unlikely to do so.

    Matter: Congress should amend section 204(l)(3) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) deleting the words "$10 million" and substituting a revised appropriation ceiling based on refined Interior budget estimates.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress did not consider this to be of high priority during its last session. No action has been taken on this recommendation in the past 4 years and it is now unlikely that Congress will amend FLPMA.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to allocate program resources proportionately for the remainder of the withdrawal review program to states with the most acreage withdrawn and the best potential for mineral development.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior has some reservations about acting on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to use special project codes to track activities authorized under section 204(l) of FLPMA and submit this estimate to Congress as a new appropriation ceiling.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No action has been taken on this matter in the last 4 years and it is unlikely that Interior will do so.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to develop new budget estimates for the completion of the withdrawal review program based only on activities authorized under section 204(l) of FLPMA and submit this estimate to Congress as a new appropriation ceiling.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior is reluctant to act on this recommendation because of its budgetary implications. No action has been taken on this recommendation in the last 4 years and Interior is unlikely to do so.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to seek program funding for the participating federal landholding agencies through Interior's budgetary process and reimburse these agencies for their work related to the program.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior is reluctant to act on this recommendation because of its budgetary implications. No action has been taken on this recommendation in the last 4 years and Interior is unlikely to do so.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to work with holding agency officials to determine which lands are closed to mineral exploration and development and allocate program resources to ensure a review of these lands first.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: It is unlikely that Interior will act on this recommendation because the program is virtually shut down as a result of current litigation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should establish minimum standards for mineral reports required under the review program and for new withdrawal applications.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This action was completed based on initiatives taken by the Secretary of the Interior under review program standards.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should consolidate the responsibilities for performing and evaluating these mineral reports under one assistant secretary.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Interior did not consider this to be a high priority item at this time.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should establish criteria on which management decisions which preclude mineral leasing or mining on federal lands must be based. The Secretary should also require BLM to maintain records of these decisions adequate enough to permit periodic congressional oversight.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This action was completed based on initiatives taken by the Secretary of the Interior with regard to record maintenance and mineral leasing and mining.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should establish standards and criteria for the use of restrictive stipulation on oil and gas leases, such as surface disturbance and no surface occupancy restrictions. Leasable lands should then be inventoried to determine the extent of use of such stipulations and to verify if the stipulation use meets the standards and criteria. Stipulation uses which are determined to be unjustified should be removed.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Secretary of the Interior took the necessary steps to ensure that standards and criteria are met on stipulation.

    Recommendation: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should establish a policy to remove the segregative effect on federal lands of a hydroelectric power project application when consideration of the application is terminated without the issuance of a license.

    Agency Affected: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FERC established policies and criteria to remove segregative effects in the future.

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