Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Bureau of Land Damagment

Westerners know the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) far better than our brothers on the Atlantic coast. 

Their web site says they are ‘an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, (that) administers 261 million surface acres of America's public lands, located primarily in 12 Western States. The BLM sustains the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for  the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.’

Huge cattle, farming, mining and drilling operations operate on BLM leases from the federal government.


BlmmontanaBut there’s an ebb and a flow to management integrity in this imperfect world.


What constitutes even-handed and economic handling of those public resources is defined differently by Dick Cheney (resident of Wyoming) and Dave Freudenthal (its Governor).


Wyoming is ebbing at the moment, big-time.


Talk to different people, hear different things. An anonymous senior official at the BLM claims it’s become cultural practice to spend money that’s assigned one purpose for quite another, a sort of prioritizing by the whim of whoever’s in charge.


BlmwyogasfieldsWhat would we do without these anonymous tellers of tales and (better question yet) how do we make or change national policy on the basis of some guy who’s afraid for his job? Maybe he’s a crackpot, maybe a true servant of the people. But name withheld by request has become the normal request.


What we have going for us, we who have no intimate access, is a feel for the purity of argument. Some things sound logical, some things don’t.


The Energy Policy Act of 2005, an act orchestrated in secret within the darkest recesses of Dick Cheney’s office and modeled on industry wish-lists, updated something called the BLM and Forest Service Gold Book. Gold Book. It trills off the tongue, sends shivers of delight down the backs of  oil and gas industry executives. According to the Energy Policy Act

This new Gold Book introduces improved practices for expediting the processing of Applications for Permits to Drill (APDs) and environmental Best Management Practices (BMPs) to reduce the environmental effect of energy exploration and production. The revised Gold Book includes updated drawings, photographs, tables, and references to updated policy, Orders, and regulations.

Call me a party-pooper, but improved practices for expediting applications to drill, doesn’t sound much like sustaining the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for  the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. It sounds more like a resources grab by guys close to Cheney, maybe even guys privy to the deals from his darkest recesses.


BlmbennettBob Bennett, the go-to guy at the Wyoming BLM says (with a straight-face and no apparent irony) "If a wildlife biologist is working on an application for a permit to drill, that doesn't mean he is not doing wildlife work. The wildlife job is a broad job, and it does involve energy."


Sounds like wildlife-work to me, Bob. 13,000 permits in two years keeps keeps those biologists pushing the paper, no matter it’s twice the rate that industry has the resources to drill.


There’s no way this administration’s zeal for giving away the West can continue under a newly elected President, no matter the party. So, it’s push permits until the music stops.


WyogovfreudenthalGovernor Freudenthal, along with some oil industry executives, is shaken as scientific studies show steady, consistent and steep declines in wildlife around gas fields. Obviously, environmentalists and career-biologists agree, but it’s stunning to hear murmurs from the energy execs. Stunning and worrisome.


For his part, Bennett would like to "take it slow and easy." But he claims the bureau is under "a lot of national pressure, from industry and from Congress. The demand for gas is a real issue to people."


It just makes you wonder, which people?
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A bunch more environmental issues muddying the waters on my personal web site.