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DATE: July 21, 2018

SNIP: Ten thousand feet up, it’s possible to see the whole of Colorado’s North Fork Valley from Dan Stucker’s plane. As the aircraft glides over sloping mesas with snow-dusted mountains, the land below resembles a vintage pioneer landscape.

If President Donald Trump has his way, a new feature could arrive on this vista: oil and gas pumps. His administration is opening vast stretches of public land to energy companies, and up to 95 percent of the valley could be available to drillers.

The administration’s new policies would bring sweeping changes to this Rocky Mountain landscape, facilitated by a growing bond between federal officials and the oil and gas industry. Emails and other communications between government employees obtained by E&E News reveal directives and orders by Trump officials to shelve environmental policies to speed energy development.

In one instance, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke courted oil and gas drillers in private by assuring them that changes to federal land policy would make their companies more profitable.

These policies will set the nation on a future course of reliance on fossil fuels that cause climate change, more air and water pollution in rural areas, and new threats to endangered species. In return, the government charges oil companies as little as $2 per acre to lease the land for drilling.

The president’s plans to expand fossil fuels seem as boundless as the tracts of wilderness below. He wants to open millions of acres across the West, all owned by taxpayers, to private oil and gas companies. Last year alone, his administration put 11.9 million acres on the auction block. It was the most in nine years. In sheer size, that’s twice as big as Vermont.

The move underscores how the Trump administration has sidelined science to promote energy development. Trump revoked a policy that required the Interior Department, which oversees the BLM, to consider how its actions could contribute to climate change.

Trump doesn’t seem to accept that fossil fuel extraction has costs — to the environment and people’s health. The White House reduced estimates of damage from carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, to $1 to $6 per ton. It was $42 under Obama. In the past, Trump has called climate change “bullshit” and a “hoax.” Now, his administration is implementing policies that reflect that view.

That outlook emerges in Trump’s decisions here and across the West. The nation’s vast public lands have always been an engine for energy development. Now it’s in overdrive. One of Trump’s economic cornerstones is “energy dominance.” He wants the nation to produce more energy than it ever has.

The Trump administration revoked a policy that instructed the BLM to consider whether its actions warm the planet. That means an agency that already accounts for 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t have to consider its effect on the atmosphere when auctioning off federal land. That land could be under the control of private oil and gas companies for decades.