For Immediate Release: Thursday, February 6, 2020
Contact: Chandra Rosenthal (303) 898-0798; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Public Input and Governor’s Objections Ignored by DC-Based BLM Officials
Denver, CO — Even as it claims to be decentralizing decision-making to the field, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management headquarters is dictating local management calls, according to agency documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The latest instance is BLM HQ overruling its field managers to throw open nearly a million acres in southwest Colorado to oil and gas leasing.
Capping a lengthy planning process for federal lands and mineral rights in Montrose, Ouray, Gunnison, Delta, San Miguel and Mesa counties, BLM abruptly abandoned its preferred alternative and on June 29, 2019 adopted a wholly new alternative, one with vastly expanded oil and gas leasing.
The reason for this turn-around can be found in recently released BLM records. One describes a briefing in which DC-Based appointees told Colorado BLM managers that their more limited alternative “misses the mark” and was “not in line with the Administration’s direction to decrease regulatory burden and increase access.” Further, proposed oil and gas extraction stipulations are too restrictive.”
Another document recaps that “A briefing with BLM leadership resulted in the need to revise the preferred alternatives and analysis…. To address the concerns identified, the [local] Field Office made changes to management actions including reducing fluid mineral stipulations and restrictions, reducing right-of-way restrictions, reducing areas managed as lands with wilderness characteristics, and reducing areas of environmental concern.”
“This decision is as high-handed as it is wrong-headed,” stated Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal, who obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. “Political appointees overriding the extensive cooperation and planning by their own experts is the exact opposite of the local decision- making they profess to embrace.”
In addition, this preemptory reversal violated a memorandum of understanding for joint planning with state and local officials. In this reversal, BLM also –
- Blew off strenuous objections from Colorado Governor Jared Polis;
- Triggered protests by three county commissions; and
- Ignored cautions from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service about adverse impacts on critical habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse.
Ironically, BLM’s go-it-alone stance took place as the agency was relocating its Headquarters from DC to Grand Junction, Colorado, supposedly to advance the role of local stakeholders in agency decision-making.
“These documents show that the decision was made on ideological grounds and contrary to the findings of the best available science,” Rosenthal added. “This arbitrary reversal will make BLM’s ultimate decision much more vulnerable to being tossed out in court.”