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Wednesday, 21 March 2018 06:33

Bureau of Land Management Employees Become Propaganda Tools for Commercial Exploration

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BLM2Is the oil derrick our new symbol for Bureau of Land Management public lands? (Photo: PEER)

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees approximately 258 million acres of land and 700 acres of "subsurface mineral estate," according to allgov.com, which is approximately 13 percent of the US land mass. It is administered through the Department of the Interior under pro-industry Secretary Ryan Zinke. Created by President Harry Truman in 1946, the BLM oversees 40 percent of the land owned by the US government, most of it in Western states and Alaska.

The mission of the BLM has been to balance environmental, recreational and heritage concerns with commercial exploration. However, as a recent article in Truthout details, under the Trump administration and Zinke, that balance has dramatically shifted toward commercial "stakeholders." This includes the mining, energy, timber and cattle grazing industries. This, in turn, threatens the interests of the public at large:

About a year ago, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to relieve the energy industry of "regulatory burdens." In response, the BLM has expedited lease sales without analyzing all available cultural resource data and has canceled studies that were initiated under the Obama administration to better understand the location of antiquities and to place such lands off-limits to drilling.

A recent BLM memo directed regional managers to truncate scientific review and public comment periods and granted permission to eliminate them altogether if a proposed lease area had been studied previously.

An investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that the administration's expedited move to open these public lands to energy exploration puts at risk scores of ancient buildings, vessels, petroglyphs, even roads.

Amid the siege of Trump-era deregulation, all the lands that the BLM administers are at risk for degradation if they are of value to commercial interests.

Public Employees for the Environmental Interest (PEER) sent out an email last week that detailed how BLM staff in Western states are now required to wear plastic "vision" cards adorned with illustrations of an oil rig and cows grazing. PEER denounced the action as a propaganda move:

"The person of federal employees should not be used for political messaging," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting the Vision Cards' similarity to propaganda placards used by totalitarian regimes. "This is supposed to be the Bureau of Land Management not Mao's Red Guard."

The two Vision Cards for uniform wear repeat language from the agency website.  The cards –

  • Display the image of an oil rig and what appears to be livestock grazing, in contrast to the official BLM logo which shows a tree, river, and mountain;

  • Reference serving "stakeholders" and "customers" but do not mention serving the public; and 

  • Declare that the purpose of improving "the health and productivity of the land" is "to support the BLM multiple-use mission."

Remember that this is federal land owned by the public, not by private interests. The BLM currently has no director, so it is being run directly out of Zinke's office, with presumed influence from the White House. The Vision Cards represent the Trump administration's enthusiastic support of the "land rights" movement led by white men. One goal of this campaign is to turn over more BLM land to states, which would likely be more amenable to leasing or selling off the land for private and commercial use.

Obviously, the so-called "land rights" movement ignores the reality that the land in question was seized from the Indigenous population. The incidents at the Bundy ranch and at the Malheur National Wildlife Reserve represent one prong of the "land rights" movement, which at least in the latter case relates to the "sovereign rights" movement. In these confrontations, there is no recognition of Indigenous rights to the land in question.

The vision badge that the BLM is requiring some of its staff to wear doesn't acknowledge Indigenous rights over the land it administers, either. Moreover, it pays lip service to conservation, while acknowledging its priorities in obliging the commercial sector. As noted on the BLM website on a page entitled "All of the Above Energy Approach":

The BLM supports the America First Energy Plan, which includes oil and gas, coal, strategic minerals, and renewable energy resources such as wind, geothermal and solar—all of which may be developed on public lands and subject to free markets.  This approach strengthens American energy security, supports job creation, and strengthens America's energy infrastructure.  We are also taking steps to make energy development on public lands easier by reviewing and streamlining our business processes to serve industry and the American public.

"To serve industry" is the key phrase here. It is, therefore, only appropriate that an oil derrick is featured prominently on the front of the BLM "vision" card.