BLM Web Disaster

SOURCE:  climatewest.org

“The Bureau of Land Management has already been under fire for using its website to promote fossil fuel industry interests, but this absolute elimination of online access and information is a scandal of epic proportions.”

Trump’s BLM Web Disaster

By

For those who don’t know, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has been moving to a new website over the last several months. Far from a seamless transition, however, the move has been a complete disaster.

In the last several weeks, the agency seems to have completely disconnected its old website, effectively erasing any content that once existed on the web. While this wouldn’t be a bad thing if the Bureau had migrated all its content to the new website, unfortunately, this hasn’t happened. Making matters worse, the new website seems to be incomplete, lacks cohesion and any semblance of organization, is slow to load, and barely registers on web searches.

The result has been a complete web catastrophe: Information that was once publicly available is no longer accessible, public access to information and web pages seems to have been eliminated, and, more than ever, Americans are in the dark when it comes to the functions and actions of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Let’s be clear, no matter what your interest or agenda is, this is a major affront to transparency. It also underscores how President Trump and his Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, are bent on shutting out the public out of the management of public lands and resources.

For years, the American public has relied on the Bureau of Land Management’s websites to access all sorts of information: recreation maps; instructions for filing applications for permits and claims; reports and analyses; news updates; staff contact information; and more. Now, it’s pretty much all gone.

Read the rest of this article HERE.

BLM’s website down Thursday night

Well, the ONLY source for any BLM information on the worldwide web that hasn’t been completely erased, the new minimalist BLM website, has been down.

The BLM should extend the deadlines on all planning documents since the public wasn’t able to access their website to get any information for hours tonight.  I doubt if the BLM website is “overloaded,” so in the future, if they know that work is to be done on the website and that it may be offline, they should let the public know ahead of time.  On the bright side, maybe they’re adding some of the tens of thousands of pages about the Wild Horse & Burro Program that they wiped off the internet.

Wild Horse Freedom Federation files two additional FOIA lawsuits against BLM

Wild-Horse-Freedom-FederationPO Box 390, Pinehurst Texas 77362

(800) 974-3684

For Immediate Release: July 5, 2017

Wild Horse and Burro Advocacy Group Funds Two More Lawsuits over Bureau of Land Management Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Violations

Pinehurst, TX – Wild Horse Freedom Federation (WHFF) has announced that it has recently filed two additional FOIA lawsuits, so it is currently funding five Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits, that allege the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated its duties under FOIA. Records sought are in connection with the BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Program. Debbie Coffey, V.P. and Dir. of Wild Horse Affairs for Wild Horse Freedom Federation, and Wild Horse Freedom Federation are the Plaintiffs. The lawsuits are pending in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington, DC.

Attorneys Daniel J. Stotter of Corvallis, Oregon and C. Peter Sorenson of Eugene, Oregon filed the lawsuits.

R.T. Fitch, President and Co-Founder of WHFF states, “Wild Horse Freedom Federation serves in a “watchdog” capacity over the BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Program. Unimpeded transparency of federal government agencies is the cornerstone of democracy.”

On January 21, 2009, former President Obama sent a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies regarding an open and transparent government, stating that, “Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.”

President Obama continued, “The government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by the disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve.”

Wild Horse Freedom Federation (WHFF) is a registered, Texas non-profit corporation with 501c3 status in all 50 states. WHFF puts people between America’s wild equids and extinction through targeted litigation against governmental agencies whose documented agendas include the eradication of wild horse and burros from public, federal and state lands. WHFF is funded exclusively through the generosity of the American public.

###

Media Contact:

R.T. Fitch
President/Co-Founder of Wild Horse Freedom Federation
rtfitch@wildhorsefreedomfederation.org ~ rt@rtfitch.com
1-800-974-FOTH
(713) 632-4573

To Download Release Click (HERE)

From Animal Welfare Institute: USDA Still Stonewalling on Access to Enforcement Records

” When BuzzFeed, which consulted with AWI for an April 28 story on the issue, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records pertaining to the site scrub, the USDA provided 1,771 pages of records with every single page completely blacked out—all information redacted.” – Animal Welfare Institute

SOURCE:  Animal Welfare Institute at awionline.org

After the public outcry regarding the US Department of Agriculture’s scrubbing of inspection records and other important enforcement documents from its website, the department began to restore selected records online. These included annual reports for research facilities and inspection reports for some registrants and licensees.

The bulk of the data remains missing, however. The USDA has not posted a single enforcement record (e.g., warning letter, stipulated penalty, or complaint) since August 2016. Also remaining offline are about two-thirds of the inspection reports that the USDA says “may contain personal information implicating the privacy interests of individuals and closely-held businesses.” These pertain to thousands of regulated entities (breeders, dealers, exhibitors, and others licensed or registered under the Animal Welfare Act).

Read the rest of this article HERE.

BLM claims selling wild horses to kill buyer Tom Davis was selling them to a “good home”

by Debbie Coffey, V.P. & Dir. of Wild Horse Affairs, Wild Horse Freedom Federation All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2017

On the Bureau of Land Management’s new website, on the Program Data page for the Wild Horse & Burro Program (under the Wild Horse and Burro Sales to Private Care tab), the BLM claims “It has been and remains the policy of the BLM, despite the unrestricted sales authority of the Burns Amendment, NOT to sell or send any wild horses or burros to slaughterhouses or to “kill buyers.”

The BLM claims “Wild Horses and Burros Sold to Good Homes” but then includes a total of 402 wild horses and burros sold in Fiscal Year 2012. (In this 402 total, 320 were horses and 82 were burros.)

BLM sale logs obtained by us in Freedom of Information Act requests indicate that in Fiscal Year 2012, the BLM sold 239 wild horses (almost 80% of the 320 horses that were sold) to kill buyer Tom Davis of La Jara, CO.  Many, if not all, of these wild horses went to slaughter in Mexico.

Does this look like a “good home” to you?

BLM states it has a policy not to sell wild horses and burros to kill buyers, but:

  1. On 1/11/12, Lester T. Duke (BLM Burns, Oregon) sent an email to BLM’s Bea Wade, regarding 50 sale authority horses, noting that a “large portion”of the mares were “possibly pregnant.” Lester asked if they should ship to long term holding or hold them at the corrals for sale. Bea responded that she forwarded the email to Sally Spencer. After a couple of more emails regarding this, Sally finally sent email on 2/23/12 that Tom Davis would purchase the horses, starting with the load of mares from Burns, Oregon. (About a week later, BLM sold Tom Davis 32 horses from the Burns, Oregon corrals.   19 of these horses were mares)
  2. On 4/19/12, Deanna Masterson, Public Affairs specialist for the BLM Colorado state office, sent an “Early Alert” email to “WO BLM/DOI Officials” (Jeff Krause, Leigh Espy, Helen Hankins, Steven Hall, Tom Gorey and Sally Spencer) that “The Colorado Department of Agriculture notified the BLM Colorado State Office of a Colorado Open Records request from David Phillips, a freelance journalist, for brand inspection and transfer paperwork for horses the BLM sold to Tom Davis of La Jara, Colorado. Phillips indicated he suspected Davis of selling these horses for slaughter to Mexico.”
  3. On 4/24/12, the BLM, alerted that Tom Davis was suspected of selling horses for slaughter, still sells 106 wild horses to Tom Davis.
  4. On 5/17/12, Sally Spencer sent out an email, marked “High” importance, to 21 people (Joe Stratton, Roger Oyler, Amy Dumas, Fran Ackley, Karen Malloy, Christopher Robbins, Jared Bybee, Robert Mitchell, Alan Shepherd, Rob Sharp, Robert Hopper, Gus Warr, June Wendlandt, Joan Guilfoyle, Mary D’Aversa, Dean Bolstadt, Jeff Krause, Tom Gorey, Debbie Collins, Lili Thomas, Bea Wade) and BLM_WO_260 WHB Communications, telling them a reporter was calling about Tom Davis. Spencer asked Joe Stratton to send out a message to all facility managers and the state leads to send a message out to all WHB Specialists that if they were asked “specifics” about a purchaser, they shouldn’t respond for privacy issues…”

If BLM personnel were so convinced that they sold the wild horses and burros to a “good home,” why all of the urgency and secrecy?

If the BLM truly believes these horses were sold to a “good home,” why isn’t Tom Davis’ photo featured on the BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Program page on the BLM’s new website, instead of the photo of the young blonde girl? After all, the BLM sold Tom Davis 1,794 wild horses and burros from 2008-2012.

If the BLM thinks they’re fooling us, they’re only fooling themselves.

All documents referenced above can be seen HERE.

The Bureau of Land Management is scrubbing their trail on the internet

After NBC News wrote about the Bureau of Land Management featuring a photo of a coal bed at the top of their website, the BLM changed it… to now feature this photo of an oil & gas pipeline.

by Debbie Coffey, V.P. & Dir. of Wild Horse Affairs, Wild Horse Freedom Federation                                                                    All Rights Reserved.          Copyright 2017

The Bureau of Land Management is scrubbing most of its links off of the internet, and in doing so, erasing much of its history from public view.

Many of the blm.gov links that are still remaining on the internet at this point say “page not found,” or the links are no longer cached.

The BLM also suddenly removed state and district websites.  Instead, you will now find “landing pages” that direct you to only one main Bureau of Land Management website.  (You can look at the new BLM website HERE.)

I called a BLM Public Affairs Specialist to ask some questions about the defunct websites and links.  This person said in the past there were about 90,000 pages (and then a bit later stated that it could possibly be only about 60,000 pages) of BLM content on the internet, but that all of these pages couldn’t be maintained or updated, and weren’t centralized.  This person said the BLM’s prior content management system was outdated.

Most importantly, this person also said there were now standards to reduce the amount (of pages/content).

Who made the decision to even have a standard to reduce content available to the public on the internet?  During this website transition, who is making the decisions, and on what basis, of what data to migrate, or not to migrate, to the new BLM website?  These decisions cherry pick what information will be available to the public in the future.

Make no mistake, this “reducing the amount” of content on the internet is erasing many of this agency’s past actions, activities, and government documentation.  Many of these links had historical value.  For example, the BLM activities of BLM employees Sally Spencer and Lili Thomas over the years are now gone.  These types of links on the internet didn’t need to be “maintained” or “updated.”  They were historical in nature.

In the past, in doing a google search for Sally Spencer (a longtime BLM employee, and the Marketing Specialist famous for selling so many wild horses and burros to kill buyer Tom Davis), she was included on many, many BLM government links.  I went to the BLM’s new website and searched “Sally Spencer,” and only 3 items appeared.  When I searched “Lili Thomas” (another longtime BLM Wild Horse & Burro Program employee who oversaw the BLM’s Long Term Holding facilities for wild horses for many years), only 4 items appeared.  And when I searched “John Neill” (a longtime Palomino Valley Center manager), all that came up was “No results found.”

These individuals are BLM personnel who have been central in management issues in the BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Program, as evidenced by FOIA documentation garnered by the late Dr. Patricia Haight of The Conquistador Program.

Even when I searched the new BLM website for “Dean Bolstad” (the Division Chief of the Wild Horse & Burro Program) only 2 items appeared.

(Although, luckily, thanks to In Defense of Animals, you can still go online and see this youtube video of Lili Thomas saying “working with wild horses is not a pretty sight” at a public meeting.)

What I can’t understand is, if the new content management system is bigger and better, why couldn’t the new content management system have contained all of the old data along with new data?  If this agency were truly transparent, they would add data, not reduce data, available to the public on the internet.

At first the Bureau of Land Management only removed the Directories for District offices and Field Offices, making it difficult, for example, to find out who was the Wild Horse & Burro Specialist, Hydrologist, Range Management Specialist or other personnel in any particular district or field office or to find an email address or telephone number for them.  BLM personnel frequently transfer to other offices and states, so it was already hard enough to try to keep up with who was where.  But now the public really doesn’t have a clue who is doing what or where.

You used to be able to go to the home pages of BLM state and district websites, and get a quick overview of not only roundup plans for wild horses & burros, but mining expansion plans, oil & gas lease sale plans, and other uses of our public lands in that area, all in one place.

Now, the BLM has divided these by topics or by “regions,” on their new website.   Under the “region” of Nevada (we call them states here in the U.S.A.), there isn’t a box for wild horses & burros (only oil and gas leasing, greater sage grouse, Great Basin Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Information Access Center, Nevada Resource Advisory Councils & Federal Register Notices).

By scattering information all over this one “centralized” website, the BLM has made it much harder for the public to put together the pieces of information for a clear picture about the multiple uses of our public lands in any one area.

The Program Data page for the Wild Horse & Burro Program is HERE.  When I clicked on the box for Historical Program Data and Public Lands Statistics, I noticed something was missing that used to be available to the public.  It was the column on Adoptions by Locations & Date.  Information from the years 2009-2015 were previously available.

The biggest reason this data was important is because it let the public know the dates of adoption events (including internet adoptions), the locations of the events, the number of the wild horses and burros offered for adoption (until Fiscal Year 2014) and the number of wild horses and burros that were actually adopted at each event.

The BLM likely stopped reporting the number of horses & burros offered at adoption events in Fiscal Year 2014 because it didn’t want the public to know how many horses & burros were racking up “strikes” by not being adopted.  When a wild horse or burro isn’t adopted after 3 events and gets 3 “strikes” it can be sold without restriction (to slaughter), no matter how young it is.  Even this seemingly small reduction of data indicated a lack of transparency by this agency.

Another reason this data is important to the public is because it let the public see what areas of the country adopt the most (and the least) wild horses & burros.

While the new BLM website contains a lot of information, it seems we have lost much more information that was once available on the internet, but was not migrated to the new BLM website.  For example, the BLM News Release on its promised investigation into the deaths of wild horses at the Scott City feedlot is on the internet, but as of today, is not one of the 63 News Releases available to the public on the BLM’s new website.

We will never know how much, or what, the BLM has removed from the internet.  The BLM’s scrubbing of their trail on the internet has not only erased part of the history of this government agency, it is censorship, and it is the equivalent of a modern day book burning.

SEE EXAMPLES REFERENCED ABOVE HERE.

JAMES KLEINERT v BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT

 wild-horses-poster-668x1024
Filmmaker James Kleinert had to fight to obtain requested Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) records from the Bureau of Land Management, and filed a lawsuit against them.  Kleinert’s Wild Horses & Renegades facebook page included this edited message from his attorney, Daniel J. Stotter, “Just received a nice win from the DC federal court in our FOIA case James Kleinert v BLM.   An excellent FOIA ruling, setting favorable law on our adequacy of search objection issues, and strongly admonishing the BLM for its improper FOIA withholdings and their failure to meet the legal requirements of FOIA exemptions (b)(5), (b)(6) and (b)(7)(c).   Here’s a link to the court’s decision:
KLEINERT v. BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, No. 1:2014cv01506 – Document 29 (D.D.C. 2015)

SOURCE:  justia.com

Excerpts from Opinion by the Court on James Kleinert v Bureau of Land Management:
Kleinert is a documentary filmmaker whose work has focused on American wild horses.  This vocation has brought Kleinert into repeated contact with BLM, which manages public lands where wild horses live and administers the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.  Kleinert and the agency have not had an entirely cordial relationship: Kleinert has sharply criticized BLM’s treatment of wild horses.  In recent years Kleinert has come to believe that “BLM has been targeting [his] filming of wild horses on the public lands . . . by seeking to restrict [his] access to film at locations that would depict these issues.”

This targeting, he suggests, “is related to the agency’s opposition to, and disagreement with, the content of [his] films, and [his] advocacy as to these issues,” and is aimed at limiting his “ability to facilitate public oversight of the agency’s actions.”

When nearly a full year passed without the delivery of any records, Kleinert filed this suit to compel BLM to respond to his request.

It seems, though, that BLM had sent Kleinert a compilation of responsive records in January 2014, but for reasons unknown— they never showed up in Kleinert’s mail.

Kleinert cross moved for summary judgment, arguing that many of the redactions were unjustified, and also that BLM had not conducted an adequate search of its records.
Kleinert’s motion prompted BLM to take another look—which revealed that the agency had indeed failed to provide a number of responsive records.
But Kleinert contends that BLM has still not demonstrated the adequacy of its search or the propriety of many redactions, including some in the newly released materials.
The Court noted (in part):
The Court was in doubt about whether the agency conducted a reasonable search.
For the most part, BLM failed to convince the Court that their redactions were justified.
With respect to the Exemption 5 (deliberative process) redactions that Kleinert challenged, BLM failed to show that its invocation of the deliberative process privilege was justified.
BLM’s submissions did not convince the Court that some redacted materials “reflect the personal opinions of the writer rather than the policy of the agency.”
BLM’s reliance on Exemption 7(C) for the most part faltered at the first step because BLM did not convince the Court that the bulk of the redacted records were “compiled for law enforcement purposes.”
(Regarding Exemption 7), “the individuals whose names and titles have been redacted here fit none of those categories.  They are BLM employees who signed non-confidential official documents that happened to be reviewed and summarized years later by investigators examining tangentially related events.  The risk of harassment, embarrassment, or reputational damage here — if not absent entirely—seems about as close to nil as it could get.”
Given that the privacy interests here are truly de minimis, the balancing favors disclosure.  Kleinert has articulated a significant public interest behind his FOIA request: determining whether BLM is unfairly restricting his ability to film on public lands because of his views.  This inquiry of course has special significance for Kleinert, but the public generally has an interest in learning if an agency is retaliating against its media critics.
“Exemption 6 does not categorically exempt individuals’ identities.”  The absence of such a per se rule is fatal to BLM’s invocation of Exemption 6, for the agency has failed to explain with meaningful specificity why releasing the challenged information would significantly threaten anyone’s privacy.  …And the Court will certainly not accept the suggestion that the remote possibility of harassment means that every disclosure of a name implicates a significant privacy interest.

BLM keeps quiet, again

wild_at_heart_coverwww.terrifarley.com

SOURCE:  newsreview.com

By

Author Terri Farley said last week the Bureau of Land Management was unresponsive when she was writing her new book about wild horses and young people who try to protect them.

“I know people that are staffers for BLM that I’ve gotten along with great, people that I feel have some integrity, and they know what they’re doing and the care about what they’re doing,” she said.  “However, everyone who wanted to talk to me had to go through D.C.”

This everything-goes-vertical policy has long drawn complaints from reporters in the West, because it often denies them the most informed perspective, from the BLM people in the field.  The problem was especially acute during the April 2014 Bunkerville standoff.

Farley said, “And I have a stack of emails and phone messages—‘We’ll get back to you’; ‘Oh, could you put your questions in writing?’ ”

Moreover, she said that after a long period of being ignored by BLM spokespeople, once she announced on Facebook that the book was finished, they came running.

She said she pushed back the press date in hope of getting comments from BLM.  She was able to pull old quotes from her notes or use quotes from news coverage, but those were only substitutes for an on-point interview.  She did send written questions without success.

“And I really did make the book as balanced as it was possible to do without them talking to me,” she said.  “But then after I posted it on Facebook that the book was gone and no more changes could be made, I got an email answering my questions.”

Even then, she said, the answers to her questions were mostly taken from material on the BLM website.

New Federal Fracking Rules Rely on FracFocus Even as EPA Research Highlights Site’s Flaws

EPA researchers ran up against a major stumbling block in crunching numbers based on FracFocus’ data, an issue that some warn may continue to cause problems even as the Bureau of Land Management adopts FracFocus as the mechanism for tracking fracking chemicals used on federal public lands.”

Source: desmogblog.com

by Sharon Kelly

chemicals  Photo credit:”Bulk fluid shipping containers on pallets ready for shipment,” via Shutterstock.

It’s a classic case of the government’s left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Days after the Bureau of Land Management issued new federal rules for fracking on federal land, relying heavily on an industry-run site called FracFocus, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a study mainly noteworthy for the shortcomings of the site that it revealed.

More than 70 percent of the chemical disclosure statements that drillers posted on FracFocus between January 2011 and February 2013 were missing key information because drillers labeled that data “confidential business information,” the EPA reported.

On average, drillers reported using a mix of 14 different chemicals at each well site. At sites where information was withheld, an average of five chemicals were not named.

In fact, FracFocus allowed drillers to conceal the identity of more than one out of every ten chemicals whose use was “disclosed” on the site, EPAresearchers found.

This made it impossible for EPA‘s researchers, who received over 39,000 disclosure statements from FracFocus in March 2013 and published their study two years later, to definitively say what chemicals drillers used most often, how much of each chemical was injected underground, or even to simply create a list of all the chemicals used at the wells.

“The project database is an incomplete picture of all hydraulic fracturing due to … the omission of information on CBI [confidential business information] ingredients from disclosures, and invalid or erroneous information created during the development of the database or found in the original disclosures,”EPA noted in a fact sheet about the research.

All told, the EPA was able to identify 692 different chemicals — including hydrochloric acid, methanol and diesel fuel — that were used during fracking. But that number is almost certainly incomplete, EPA researchers said, in part because over 129,000 individual ingredient records were labeled secret.

The gaps immediately drew the ire of environmental groups.

The fracking industry is hiding a lot of information about the chemicals they are using in our communities,” Kate Kiely, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Bloomberg. “Even without that information, it is clear that there is widespread use of dangerous chemicals.”

Just seven days before EPA‘s results were released, the Bureau of Land Management announced new rules intended to manage fracking on over 247 million acres of public land managed by the federal government and the 700 million acres for which the government owned mineral rights as of 2013.

The BLM‘s newly-minted chemical disclosure rules are built around FracFocus, allowing drillers to make required reports through the industry-backed website.

Data, data, everywhere…

EPA researchers ran up against a major stumbling block in crunching numbers based on FracFocus’ data, an issue that some warn may continue to cause problems even as the Bureau of Land Management adopts FracFocus as the mechanism for tracking fracking chemicals used on federal public lands.

FracFocus stored the information drillers provided in separate .pdf files for each disclosure, and every .pdf form can be different if drillers decide to edit the formatting. This meant that EPA researchers needed to spend enormous amounts of time simply transferring each bit of information into a spreadsheet, and then going back and making sure that each bit of information was in the proper place.

Some open-government advocates say that the BLM‘s reliance on FracFocus runs contrary to an executive order issued by President Obama that pledged to make data from the government “easy to find, accessible, and usable” by requiring it to be “machine-readable” — essentially in a format that lets researchers access it.

“Besides the fact that this decision flouts the President’s own Executive Order #13642 on Open Data, why are we so concerned about how the government manages fracking data?” David Manthos, Communications Director of the environmental organization SkyTruth wrote in a blog posting about the BLMrules. “The reason is because this decision will deprive property and homeowners, scientists, decision-makers, emergency responders, healthcare professionals, and the general public of effective access to information that is vital to investigating the environmental, social, and public health impacts of modern oil and gas drilling.”

FracFocus has promised to upgrade its site, having already done so once since it provided EPA researchers with the raw materials for their study. But SkyTruth’s Manthos remains skeptical.

“I’m concerned that BLM is basing their decision on vague promises, and will have no leverage or authority to control the timetable, implementation, or functionality of these improvements,” he said.

For a while, Mr. Manthos’ organization tackled the tedious task of scraping data from the FracFocus site and importing it into spreadsheets so researchers could use it. But in 2013, their work came to an abrupt halt when FracFocus froze SkyTruth’s access to the site.

There was a little error message that was coming out saying, ‘Hey, you’re sending too many requests. You’re being blocked for 24 hours,’” SkyTruth’s Paul Woods explained to StateImpact last year. “Then, they block you for 48 hours and then they block you forever.”

SkyTruth is not the only organization to find fault with FracFocus. In 2013, astudy published by Harvard University’s Environmental Law Program gave the site a failing grade, noting that it “has limited quality assurance procedures” because “FracFocus staff does not review submissions” uploaded by drillers.

The BLM‘s new rules also allow drillers, not regulators, to decide when a chemical should be considered secret as they upload their disclosures to FracFocus.

“These trade secret provisions are much weaker than many states and ignore the advice of a Department of Energy advisory panel which unanimously recommended that ‘any trade secret exemptions permitted by BLM in its regulations for hydraulic fracturing on federal lands include a rigorous process of claiming trade secret exemptions and robust trade secret verification and challenge mechanisms,’” the NRDC‘s Amy Mall wrote in response to the new rules.

The relative laxity of the BLM‘s new rules has done little to deter protest from the oil and gas industry, who see the rules as chipping away at state-level oversight of the shale drilling rush.

“Under the strong environmental stewardship of state regulators, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have opened up a new era of energy security, job growth, and economic strength,” API Director Erik Milito said in a statement. “A duplicative layer of new federal regulation is unnecessary, and we urge the BLM to work carefully with the states to minimize costs and delays created by the new rule to ensure that public lands can still be a source of job creation and economic growth.”

Already, battles over the BLM‘s new rules are headed into the courthouse.

Two industry groups, the Independent Petroleum Association for America and the Western Energy Alliance, have filed lawsuits claiming that the BLM‘s rules overreach federal authority, as has the state of Wyoming. Environmental organizations have suggested that the rules could also be vulnerable to a challenge under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The bottom line is,” the NRDC‘s Amy Mall told The Dallas Morning News, “these rules fail to protect the nation’s public lands — home to our last wild places, and sources of drinking water for millions of people.”

The BLM fails to provide public records

The agency’s main Freedom of Information Act office appears incompetent or overworked.

SOURCE:  HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

by Ray Ring, a Senior Editor for High Country News

When High Country News began using the Freedom of Information Act to gather official reports of threats against federal employees in the West, we didn’t expect that the main obstacle would arise in one federal agency’s headquarters.

Our intention was positive: By examining and summarizing the incidents, we hoped to ease tensions and encourage more respect for the federal employees as they go about their duties in the field.

So we were surprised by the poor performance of the Bureau of Land Management’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) office in Washington, D.C. Its response to our request for public records can only be described as dysfunctional.

We began our investigation in January by filing FOIA requests with dozens of BLM field offices around the West, because the employees on the front lines bear the brunt of the threats and harassment. Then in February, the BLM’s chief FOIA officer, Ryan Witt, urged us to “consolidate” our far-flung FOIA requests into a single request handled by Witt’s office in D.C. Witt promised that running it all through his office would be would be more efficient, but as it has worked out, it’s been the opposite.

A comparison illustrates the problem: We filed similar FOIA requests with U.S. Forest Service offices around the West, and by the end of June, that agency had provided more than 2,300 pages of records of threats targeting its employees. At that point, the BLM’s FOIA office in D.C. had provided only 123 pages of records of incidents targeting BLM employees.

For two months after that, Witt and the FOIA officer to whom he delegated our request, Ore Fashola, stopped responding to us. Finally a lawyer in Witt’s office, Mike Sarich, helped spring loose several hundred additional pages in September. At that point, Fashola promised to send a “final” release of the main BLM records by mid-September — but since then, we’ve received nothing more from that set of records.

We still don’t even have BLM’s account of the worst incident since 2010 — a shooter’s attempted murder of two BLM rangers in Arizona, the opening scene in our introductory essay. We learned of that shooting through Forest Service records, because Forest Service employees helped search for the shooter who targeted the BLM rangers.

On Oct. 14, Witt phoned to explain why his office hasn’t yet provided the BLM’s account of the Arizona shooting. He said he’d discovered that his agency has a separate set of records covering incidents in which BLM law-enforcement rangers use their guns. That set of records is bound to have the most serious BLM incidents related to our FOIA request, yet Witt’s office overlooked them until we pressed for answers. Witt has now promised that we’ll get that set of records within a month, and it will include four or five incidents in which rangers drew their weapons. Forgive us if we’re skeptical about the timeline.

Whether the problem stems from overworked BLM FOIA officers in Witt’s office, incompetence, political manipulation, or a paranoiac secrecy in the BLM’s law-enforcement leadership, we encourage the head of the BLM, Neil Kornze, and his boss, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, to fix the problems in the BLM’s FOIA office.