Secret BLM Meetings Cause Uproar in Wyoming

Published September 30, 2010

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) is leading a bipartisan challenge against the secretive nature of bureaucratic planning regarding federal lands in the state. The U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, which controls how federal lands are used, refuses to open its decision-making process to the public, and Wyoming residents are outraged about it.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is refusing to allow the public to attend its sessions where Resource Management Plans (RMPs) are drawn up. In a state where the federal government owns most of the land, RMPs determine how millions of acres of public land are used. Such decisions affect, among other things, oil and gas exploration, off-road vehicle use, and habitat management.

In predominantly rural Wyoming, these decisions bear directly on the economic viability and quality of life of local communities.

Centrally Coordinated Secrecy
Distrust of BLM has been heightened by revelations in documents delivered to Montana’s Billings Gazette under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The documents show how high-level BLM officials coach underlings on how to justify excluding the public from the agency’s planning sessions.

“The memo reminds staffers that meetings are closed based on federal environmental regulations and BLM policy, but fails to point out that the law allows them to open such meetings if agency decision-makers prefer that option, or if state law requires it, as is the case in Montana,” reported the Billings Gazette (September 5),

Wyoming Leaders Protest
Freudenthal leads a growing number of elected officials from both major political parties calling for opening the meetings to the public. The state’s elected leaders also express concerns BLM will use the secretive process to designate more lands as public monuments and thus further restrict citizens’ access.

Wyoming’s congressional delegation on September 15 sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar expressing their concerns about an internal BLM memo that identified up 13 million acres nationwide, including some in Wyoming, that President Barack Obama could designate as national monuments.

The BLM memo suggested the national monument designations could be used to restrict oil and natural gas production in Wyoming and elsewhere.

In addition, a July 2009 memo from Wyoming BLM Director Don Simpson to lower-level staff offered 22 pages of advice on keeping the public from having a seat at BLM’s table.

Benefits of Accountability
Park County Commissioner Jill Shockley Siggins could barely conceal her contempt for BLM’s attitude in comments to the Casper Star-Tribune (September 7). “What’s wrong with openness in public debate?” she asked. “What is wrong with the public hearing this, so that everybody is held accountable?”

R. J. Smith, senior environmental scholar and the Competitive Enterprise Institute and senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, agrees BLM’s secrecy runs counter to principles of government accountability.

“As government at all levels now owns over 40 percent of all land in the United States and controls major amounts of the remainder through the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act’s wetlands designations, Americans are rapidly being forced into a modern Green Serfdom,” Smith said.

The BLM’s secrecy “is in complete disregard of the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act, designed specifically to prevent such secretive, backroom discussions, committees and commissions,” Smith explained. “Such secretive meetings are a clear violation of federal law.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.