Western Values Project calls for a full audit of sage-grouse public comments after 100k go missing

Private contractor in charge of tabulation process should be disclosed and audited as well

New questions have emerged as to the Bureau of Land Management’s public comment process after they released a scoping report late last week. The Casper Star-Tribune recently reported that it appears roughly 100,000 public comments were not included in the final report. It is unclear at this time if other individual public comments were omitted.

Western Values Project is calling for a full audit of Bureau of Land Management’s public comment system and the private contractor to ensure that there was no undue political influence to keep opposing comments out. E&E News reported in December that an undisclosed private contractor was hired to review the comments, raising initial concerns that there might be political influence afoot.

“We’ve documented over and over the influence of oil and gas lobbyists and industry trade groups on this process, but ignoring public comments from 100,000 Americans is both undemocratic and un-American,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of Western Values Project. “We are calling on Secretary Zinke and the Bureau of Land Management to come clean by conducting a full audit and release it to the public.”

The revelation comes on the heels of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recently telling an energy-industry conference that his agency needs to be a better partner with them and that its actions had been ‘quite frankly un-American’.

“Secretary Zinke’s hypocrisy has hit a new high. How are Americans supposed to trust the process of the largest land managing agency when it is clear that industry has tipped the scale in their favor under Secretary Zinke? Maybe, Zinke should spend less time with the foxes and guard the henhouse,” said O’Neill.

Western Values Project recently analyzed thousands of pages of internal emails at Interior made available through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) complaint and found frequent communication and coordination with lobbyists and oil and gas industry trade groups. A previous analysis of the handpicked sage-grouse review committee found the same political favoritism, discovering that 13 of the 15 recommendations that moved forward were made by an oil and gas trade lobby group, Western Energy Alliance, including a controversial captive breeding program. There are currently over 6.5 million acres of oil and gas leases in sage-grouse habitat designated for heightened protection under current plans. Of the top 10 leaseholders in sage-grouse habitat, five are members of WEA.

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