Free the BLM and Congress!

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is under fire by conservation groups in his home state of Colorado for his decision to allow drilling on the Roan Plateau to proceed on oil and natural gas leases that were issued in a “fire sale” of leases in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming in the last minutes of the Bush administration.

According to an online article “The Battle for the Roan Plateau” in the December 2, 2009, Men’s Journal

“[Secretary Salazar] could cancel the Roan leases tomorrow,” says Mike Freeman, an attorney representing environmental groups and sportsmen who are suing to stop drilling on the Roan. “He has that authority. But so far, [the Obama adminsitration’s] position has been the same as the last administration’s.”

In court filings, the Secretary has agreed he has the authority to rethink Roan management and leasing decisions that “represent the exercise of agency discretion” by a prior administration.  Of course he does.  The puzzle is why there seems to be precious little “rethinking” of the “discretion” exercised by the Bureau of Land Management under the Bush administration, now that the Obama administration is in charge.  Has the BLM been “captured” by the commercial interests it is supposed to be watching?

The BLM–the agency that issued the oil and gas leases on the Roan Plateau in Colorado–is also the agency charged with enforcing the Wild Horse and Burro Program.  In its capacity as manager of public lands, the agency often seems to give great weight and due consideration to the interests of commercial users such as domestic cattle and sheep ranchers, and oil, gas, solar and wind companies.

Non-commercial users including wild horses and burros, wild bison, wild sheep, sage grouse and the general public that wants to look and appreciate and maybe just know that the wilderness is there do not seem to have a seat at the table.

Regulatory capture occurs

because groups or individuals with a high-stakes interest in the outcome of policy or regulatory decisions can be expected to focus their resources and energies in attempting to gain the policy outcomes they prefer, while members of the public, each with only a tiny individual stake in the outcome, will ignore it altogether.

When this focus succeeds in “capturing” influence with employees and managers of the regulatory agency (in this case the BLM/DOI), the public loses.  The control, of course, is Congress and the courts.  We, the people, elect members of Congress, to represent all these “tiny individual” stakes on our behalf.  But what happens if Congress itself is captured (or distracted)?   The courts are the only resort.

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