Internal Interior documents show influence by oil and gas industry trade groups and lobbyists

FOIA’d emails show quick responses, numerous meetings, and fulfilled requests between DOI and industry lobbyists

Western Values Project released a report today that shows how oil and gas industry trade groups and lobbyists are influencing decisions at the Department of Interior (DOI) on sage grouse and a host of other issues. The report is based on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) responses received from the Department of the Interior and State Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offices after Western Values Project (WVP) was forced to file a complaint that now has been settled with the release of the documents. The full report and the FOIA documents can be viewed here.

The internal emails WVP received in response to the sage grouse FOIA complaint reveal an extraordinary level of coordination between the oil and gas industry and DOI. Oil and gas trade groups and lobbyists are meeting routinely – weekly, if not more often – with Interior’s political appointees, who are eagerly responding to their requests. Oil and gas lobbyists and industry trade groups met with Interior political appointees at least 20 times between early June and early November 2017 according to the released communications.

“These emails show the level of influence by oil and gas industry trade groups and lobbyists being granted by Interior political appointees on critical public land decisions. Across the board, it appears no request will go unanswered and will likely end up being fulfilled by Interior,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of the Western Values Project. “We already knew Secretary Zinke was beholden to oil and gas lobbyists and special interests, but the extent to which it has permeated across Interior should concern everyone that values public lands. Favoritism towards oil and gas lobbyists has already ruffled the feathers of many Westerners and Governors on sage grouse and a host of other issues that impact public lands.”

Secretary Zinke and DOI started overhauling the sage-grouse habitat management plans shortly after Zinke’s confirmation in March 2017. The oil and gas industry trade groups and lobbyists have wielded considerable influence over this process, including over DOI’s August 2017 grouse report, which recommended drastic changes to the plans. WVP previously documented this political favoritism here and here.

Highlights of oil and gas industry and lobbyist influence:

Western Energy Alliance (WEA), an oil and gas trade group, is lobbying Interior to transfer oil and gas oversight to the states. On September 12, Western Energy Alliance (WEA) met with Vincent DeVito, Counselor to the Secretary for Energy Policy at DOI, presumably as a follow-up to WEA’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) regulatory reform letters. WEA’s lead asks in the BLM letter was to transfer oil and gas oversight authority from BLM to the states, which also happens to be a central part of the ONSHORE Act.

On September 12, presumably, as a follow up to WEA’s BLM and FWS regulatory reform letters, WEA President Kathleen Sgamma met with Vincent DeVito. After the meeting, Sgamma thanked DeVito and wrote,”[w]e really appreciate the direction the Department is headed in.” She also indicated that “[w]e’ll work up a comprehensive briefing paper on the federal nexus and delegation of primacy ideas we discussed and get that to you as soon as they’re ready.” [OS-2017-001063 (Sage Grouse Comms from Industry), Page 341]

BLM appears poised to no longer manage federal lands for anything but oil and gas development. Acting BLM Director Michael Nedd, in a presentation to BLM’s Executive Leadership Team, said that BLM is not interested in “acquiring new areas for federal management,” but said that one of BLM’s “major priorities” is “energy security and mineral development.” Senior Advisor to the BLM Kathleen Benedetto said that managing a “large amount of federal estate” for “conservation purposes” is a “concern.” She identified wilderness as another “concern” because she believes only minerals can “drive progress.” [Mary Jo Rugwell email to BLM Wyoming Leadership Team, 07/25/17]

Based on references to a “final report,” and the fact that industry groups were reaching out to Interior with requests around mid-July, it’s possible that an earlier draft version of the grouse report was circulated among the trade groups. On July 14, Independent Petroleum Association of America said one of their members would like to see a certain “reference… in the final report.” Independent Petroleum Association of America told Interior about another issue they wanted “to have addressed in the final report” on July 18, 2017. [OS-2017-001063 (Sage Grouse Comms from Industry), Page 89] [OS-2017-001063 (Sage Grouse Comms from Industry), Page 158]

Karen Kelleher, the BLM’s Deputy Assistant Director of Resources and Planning, told state BLM directors that Zinke’s Secretarial Order (SO) on sage grouse plans gave them a “short timeline” to prepare a report. When a meeting of the staff who were implementing the SO had to be rescheduled, then-Idaho state director Timothy Murphy complained, saying the delay left them “no freeboard for adjustment,” disrupted “partner coordination,” and was “not a good idea” because staff would have to work on a weekend. [Karen Kelleher email to BLM State Directors, 06/19/17] [Timothy Murphy email to Karen Kelleher, 06/20/17]

Also published on Medium.

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