30 May 2017

In the decades following enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act, its breadth and impact became a primary consideration and cost factor in virtually every development project across the U.S.  Increasingly empowered EPA staff grew their influence and oversight to an ability to virtually veto any project they did not favor, regardless of statutory requirements.

One such saga bears a retelling.  A small independent operator was attempting to develop a coalbed methane prospect in a western state.   The prospect had a sufficient percentage of land to qualify for federal unitization – a means to provide for most efficient development and maximize the return on investment for royalty owners, the federal and state treasuries…and of course the public company operating the project.

To gain approval by the BLM for unitization, the company was required to complete an Environmental Assessment (EA) of the impacts of the unitization and the total buildout of the project.  The EA was filed and the BLM responded with additional requests for detail and scoping.  The company responded and the exchanges continued for FOUR years.  When the requests from the BLM ceased, the company inquired when it could expect approval, as clearly no additional requests were received from BLM.  To paraphrase, BLM said, “We’ll let you know.”

This stasis continued for more than a year – the company would inquire and BLM would neither approve nor reject the EA.  Company representatives visited the local BLM office and were told the matter was under consideration.  Then George W. Bush was elected President and a new regime assumed command at Dept. of Interior.  Company representatives with renewed hope visited the state BLM office to plead their case.  The state director stated that the office “always” deferred to the local/district office as “they know best.”

Like many of us, you might ponder the role of a state office if not to consider local decisions.  Perhaps the new administration caused the state director to give pause to making a decision – any decision.  So the response to the EA within the state was crickets.  Perhaps a trip to Washington, DC would bear fruit.  A visit to one of the most atmospherically depressing office buildings in the nation’s capital lit the lamp of hope!  The new Secretary’s chief of staff, took detailed notes and said he would research the matter and circle back.  The next day, was September 11, 2001.

Two weeks later the company received word that the EA had been approved as submitted!  No additional information, filings or details needed.  After five years, and the final one of those five in complete silence, the company had its go-ahead.  And so it did.

Meanwhile the company reps determined it would be courteous to return to the BLM district office and thank the permitting staff for their part in the approval, whether real or imaginary.  The appointment was made and upon arrival they were ushered into a small conference room with a local supervisor, not the district manager.  They were told, “You can go to the state and ask for your EA, you can go to DC and tell the Secretary.  Yeah, you can do that…but if you do it again (finger jabbing the air in the company rep’s face), YOU WILL NEVER GET ANOTHER APPROVAL FROM THIS OFFICE!  DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”

Having his fiefdom violated was a new experience for this GS-whatever-he-was.  The volume level and the apoplexy were truly impressive.  One really can’t appreciate the malevolence and pure rage in a second-hand telling.  There was no detail of how the company had failed to comply, how the company was deficient in any way, what rules or statutes the company had circumvented – merely the ire of a low level bureaucrat at the violation of his fiefdom.  Sadly this is not an isolated case of miscreants in the public employ.  By the way, this one was not as fortunate as the tree counter in the previous post…he was removed from the BLM office one month later.

More to come…

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2 Responses to The BLM Angered
  1. […] previous entries, the Policysmith has examined suspect BLM behaviors and fiefdoms, the “Federal Family,” and other problematic attitudes and behaviors of the […]

  2. […] previous entries, the Policysmith has examined suspect BLM behaviors and fiefdoms, the “Federal Family,” and other problematic attitudes and behaviors of the […]


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