A new rule proposed by the Interior Department would allow the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to rent public lands to non-energy mineral extractive corporations at a cheaper price and cut royalty rates on public lands — a boon for the ex-lobbyist turned-Interior Secretary Bernhardt’s former clients. It will also allow the BLM to decrease the production requirements if requested by the mining corporation.
“Once again, the Trump administration and Interior Secretary Bernhardt are fleecing taxpayers and putting extractive corporations, some that Bernhardt previously represented, ahead of our public lands,” said Western Values Project Deputy Director Jayson O’Neill. “Secretary Bernhardt should be focused on addressing the ballooning parks and public lands deferred maintenance backlog, not giving his wealthy former clients another tax break.”
This new rule raises questions about Sec. Bernhardt’s ties to mining corporations impacted by this decision. The former lobbyist and lawyer previously provided legal services for American West Potash, LLC from 2012 to 2014. Sec. Bernhardt is also closely tied to the proposed expansion of a 16-acre limestone mine outside of Glenwood Springs, CO. The mine is owned by Rocky Mountain Resources and headed by Chad Brownstein, son of Norman Brownstein, the long-time chair and co-founder of Bernhardt’s former lobbying firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
O’Neill continued, “This rule continues down a path of managing America’s public lands for single-use extractive resource development by the Trump administration. This and other public land rollbacks threaten to take the multi-use linchpin of America’s outdoor heritage to a point of no return.”
This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has proposed handouts to extractive corporations. Previously, the Trump administration and Sec. Bernhardt listed uranium on the critical minerals list — a surprise inclusion seemingly meant to challenge a 20-year moratorium on mineral mining around the Grand Canyon. One of the corporations behind the request was a former legal client of Sec. Bernhardt. The rule proposal spawned out of a Secretarial Order signed by the scandal-plagued former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in July of 2017 and seeks to “provide relief” to mining corporations.
Not surprisingly, Bernhardt failed to mention the growing outdoor economy that relies on usable public lands. The most recent analysis by the Bureau of Economic Analysis found that America’s outdoor recreation economy grew faster than the overall economy, contributing 2.2 percent, or $427.2 billion, to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017. Outdoor recreation’s economic impact eclipses mining (including oil and gas extraction), utilities, farming, and chemical products manufacturing among others.
Western communities also strongly support wise public lands management. By an overwhelming margin, America’s Western states believe in reinvesting energy and mining royalties back into the public lands from which they came, with monetary gains not treated as another handout to corporations. Sec. Bernhardt and Interior should be investing in causes supported far and wide – like multi-use lands management — instead of appeasing mining corporations with sweeping regulatory rollbacks.