Department of the Interior

Thu, 2014-12-04 11:00Mike Gaworecki
Mike Gaworecki's picture

BLM Hasn't Performed An Environmental Review of Coal Leasing Program Since 1979

It has been 35 years since the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last performed an environmental review of its coal leasing program.

Two environmental groups are suing the BLM to force a review of the program.

Given advances in scientific knowledge of the risks posed by mining and burning coal to human health and Earth’s climate made since 1979, the groups argue that the review will “compel the Bureau of Land Management to deliver on its legal obligation to promote environmentally responsible management of public lands on behalf of the citizens of the United States.”

Friends of the Earth and the Western Organization of Resource Councils filed the lawsuit last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, naming Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and BLM Director Neil Kornze as lead defendants, along with the Department of the Interior and the BLM.

Tue, 2014-02-04 10:28Ben Jervey
Ben Jervey's picture

Government Accountability Office: Taxpayers Getting Stiffed by Flawed Federal Coal Lease System

The Department of the Interior is selling publicly-owned coal for much less than it is worth, essentially allowing the coal industry to fleece U.S. taxpayers of at least $200 million. 

That is one of the main takeaways from a much-anticipated report released today by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which confirms that the coal leasing program is fundamentally flawed and deserves an overhaul. 

The GAO report, “BLM Could Enhance Appraisal Process, More Explicitly Consider Coal Exports, and Provide More Public Information,” finds that the coal leases employed by the Bureau of Land Management within the Department of the Interior lack competition, use outdated methods to determine “fair market value,” ignore the growing trend of coal exports, and deliberately keep information from the public. 

Senator Markey, who has been calling for an overhaul to the coal lease system since 1982, and who demanded this GAO review, responded to the report's release

These noncompetitive practices are costing taxpayers in Massachusetts and across the nation, benefitting just a few coal companies who may be leasing public coal resources at bargain basement prices,” said Senator Markey. “Taxpayers are likely losing out so that coal companies can reap a windfall and export that coal overseas where it is burned, worsening climate change. This is a bad deal all around.”

A vast majority of federal coal leases take place in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming. Coal companies like Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, and Cloud Peak Energy are all deeply dependent on this artificially cheap coal from federal leases. 

One of the report's most stunning revelations is that roughly 90-percent of the leases issued by Interior were “single bidder” auctions, won by the company that applied for the lease, and who didn't bid against anyone else. 

Of the 107 leased tracts, sales for 96 (about 90 percent) involved a single bidder, which was generally the company that submitted the lease application,” according to the report. 

Another key finding is that the BLM uses outdated and incomplete methods to determine “fair market value” of the land and the coal. This is of particular importance when there is only a single bidder, as the auction process demands that the winning bid achieve “fair market value.” According to staffers in Senator Markey's office, “for every cent per ton that coal companies decrease their bids for the largest coal leases, it could mean the loss of nearly $7 million for the American people.”

Wed, 2013-10-09 18:00Ben Jervey
Ben Jervey's picture

Selective Shutdown: Congressman Raul Grijalva's Petition to Ban Drilling on Public Lands While Public is Locked Out

As the government shutdown drags well into its second week, the gates to America’s national parks, wildlife refuges, and national forests remain closed and the taxpaying public is denied access. Not everyone will be turned away at the gates, however: oil, gas, and coal companies that are already drilling and mining on our public lands can proceed with business as usual.

A quick survey of the contingency plans (see: Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, National Park Service) of various federal agencies shows how extraction can continue unfettered, even while the rest of of are shut out of our public lands. Today, there are 12 national parks with oil and gas drilling operations underway, and coal mining is widespread across BLM lands, particularly in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana. 

As Corbin Hair reported on SNL:

The Department of the Interior, which oversees oil and natural gas drilling as well as U.S. public lands, will furlough up to 58,765 of its 72,562 employees, according to its updated plan. National parks will close and reviewing new oil and gas leases will halt, but the DOI will continue monitoring existing operations.

“The majority of the personnel that are excepted are law enforcement, wildland fire, emergency response and security, animal caretakers, maintenance and other personnel that would be focused on the custodial care of lands and facilities and protection of life and property,” the DOI's plan said. On the outer continental shelf, “the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement would continue to ensure the safety of drilling and production operations and issue drilling and other offshore permits, however renewable activities and five year plan work would be terminated.”

At least one elected official recognizes this as unfair and unjust. On October 3, Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urging the officials to halt mining and extraction on public lands while the public itself was locked out.

Rep. Grijalva’s letter reads:

Mon, 2013-05-20 10:09Steve Horn
Steve Horn's picture

Obama Admin. Approves ALEC Model Bill for Fracking Chemical Fluid Disclosure on Public Lands

On May 16, the Obama Interior Department announced its long-awaited rules governing hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on federal lands.

As part of its 171-page document of rules, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), part of the U.S. Dept. of Interior (DOI), revealed it will adopt the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill written by ExxonMobil for fracking chemical fluid disclosure on U.S. public lands.

ALEC is a 98-percent corporate-funded bill mill and “dating service” that brings predominantly Republican state legislators and corporate lobbyists together at meetings to craft and vote on “model bills” behind closed doors. Many of these bills end up snaking their way into statehouses and become law in what Bill Moyers referred to as “The United States of ALEC.”

BLM will utilize an iteration of ALEC's “Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act” - a bill The New York Times revealed was written by ExxonMobil - for chemical fluid disclosure of fracking on public lands and will do so by utilizing FracFocus.org's voluntary online chemical disclosure database.

In a way, it's all come full circle. As we covered here on DeSmogBlog, the original chemical disclosure standards and the decision to utilize FracFocus' database came from the Obama Dept. of Energy's (DOE) industry-stacked Fracking Subcommittee formed in May 2011. DOE gave a $1.5 million grant to FracFocus

The Texas state legislature soon thereafter adopted the first bill making FracFocus the fracking chemical disclosure database at the state level in June 2011. Since then, it's been off to the races, with the Council of State Governments adopting the TX bill as model bill in Aug. 2011, ALEC adopting it as a model bill in Oct. 2011, and the bill becoming state law in Colorado, Pennsylvania and other states.

Both the Illinois and Florida state legislatures have also tried to push through this model, but it died dead in its tracks.

FracFocus has been an anemic and failed effort by the Obama Admin. to alter the George W. Bush Admin. “Halliburton Loophole” standards for fracking chemical disclosure, which allowed the recipe of fracking chemicals to remain a “trade secret.” It's amounted to nothing more than the same game by a different name, with a Harvard study recently giving FracFocus a “failing grade.”     

Sat, 2012-11-17 12:21Steve Horn
Steve Horn's picture

Former Clinton and Bush Cabinet Members, Now Oil and Gas Lobbyists, Expect Keystone XL Green Light

The Tar Sands Blockade of TransCanada Corporation's “Keystone XL South” continues in Texas, but former members of the Clinton and George W. Bush cabinets believe the northern half will soon be green-lighted by President Barack Obama. 

In a Nov. 13 conference call led by the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), an oil and gas industry front group, CEA Counsel John Northington said he believes a “Keystone XL North” rubber stamp is in the works by the Obama Administration. 

I think the Keystone will be approved in fairly short order by the administration,” Northington said on the call.

Northington has worn many hats during his long career:

[He] served in the Clinton Administration at the Department of the Interior as Senior Advisor to the Director of the Bureau of Land Management. Mr. Northington also served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management with energy policy responsibility for the former Minerals Management Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Mr. Northington began his government service at the Department of Energy, where he served as White House Liaison, Chief of Staff for the Office of Fossil Energy and Senior Advisor for Oil and Natural Gas Policy.

After his tenure working for the Clinton Administration, he walked through the revolving door and became a lobbyist, representing many clients over the past decade, including the oil and gas industry. Northington has represented ExxonMobil, Devon Energy, CONSOL Energy, and Statoil. ExxonMobil, Devon and Statoil all have a major stake in the tar sands. 

Mon, 2011-06-13 17:49TJ Scolnick
TJ Scolnick's picture

Interior Dept Okays Thousands Of New Unconventional Gas Wells In Utah

Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that his department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are fast-tracking unconventional gas drilling permits in Utah’s Uintah Basin.

Tue, 2011-04-19 15:22Laurel Whitney
Laurel Whitney's picture

Power Shift 2011 Round Up

I was sitting outside the DC Metropolitan Police Station last night at 11:30 pm when the last arrestee out of 21 for the day came out to cheers from the supportive crowd. The weekend of Power Shift 2011 ended with quite a bang, with the final day of the conference leading up to a massive day action to say no to big polluters.

I’ve been attending the Power Shift conference, in which 10,000 climate youth leaders descended onto Washington DC. It is always reaffirming to be around thousands of people that don’t think you’re some kind of nerd or radical hippie when you say you’re associated somehow with the environmentalist/climate change/clean energy/climate justice movement. There’s still such a stigma associated with climate change and environmentalism, especially with the right-wing denier machine pushing out tropes that we’re all communists wrapped in a blanket of radicalism vying to “kill the parents”.

It’s uplifting to remember at least once in a while there are thousands of people committed and passionate about working to establish a clean energy economy and promote meaningful climate legislation. And the climate justice movement isn’t just geared toward saving the planet, this movement also works toward helping to improve racial and social justice issues too.

Wed, 2010-11-17 15:43Brendan DeMelle
Brendan DeMelle's picture

Experts Blame BP For Ignoring Warning Signs That Led To Gulf Disaster

An independent panel of technical experts released its interim report today, finding that BP and its contractors ignored clear warning signs foretelling the disaster at BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico.  The report, compiled by a scientific committee of the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council, criticized BP for an “insufficient consideration of risk” in light of “several indications of potential hazard.”

Convened at the behest of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the committee was instructed to carry out an independent and science-based investigation into the root causes of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform explosion which killed 11 workers on April 20, 2010.

The experts note that BP and the other companies failed to learn from “near misses” in the past, and none of the companies or regulators flagged the flawed decisions that contributed to the well blowout.

While the U.S. government continues to allow offshore oil and gas operations following a brief deepwater drilling moratorium, the facts uncovered in independent analyses of the BP blowout point to a systemic industry problem with carelessness and a disregard for safety.  It seems cost-shaving and profit potential are the industry’s key concerns, not the safety of America’s ecologically sensitive coastal environments, and certainly not the safety of workers and affected communities.

Thu, 2008-09-11 10:59Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

Sex, Drugs, Oil and U.S. Government

A group of U.S. bureaucrats who collected billions of dollars in royalties from energy companies operated in a culture so bereft of ethics they regularly consumed cocaine and marijuana at industry gatherings, had sexual relations with oil company representatives and routinely received gifts from energy firms, including divisions of Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell PLC and BP, according to an internal investigation.

And thanks to the Globe and Mail there's more.
Subscribe to Department of the Interior