Ethics Watchdoggery at the BLM

When Forest Service life is relatively dull, there’s always our friends at Interior to look to for drama.. thanks to Nick Smith for this. My BLM friends tell me that the drama is a function of the presence of politicals, and from outside I would have to agree.

I think it’s pretty clear that owning bonds would not make Culver suddenly friendly to the oil and gas industry,given her career and the apparent feelings of the Biden Administration.

Nevertheless, here are a couple of thoughts..
1. Knowing that your employees are held to standards, why wouldn’t you… follow the rules? It would be great if someone asked her this.
2. The IG said previously she violated ethics rules, but it was “unintentional”. I wonder how the IG knows that. Seems like more training would be useful perhaps.
3. You wonder whether if not for Protect the Public’s Trust queries, no one would have noticed. Because the IG only responds to complaints.
4. It’s pointed out in the article that “Protect the Public’s Trust bills itself as nonpartisan, but Chamberlain is a former Trump administration official.”

I think it’s great to point that out- many organizations are billed as nonpartisan, but have a more or less overt political slant. Still, it seems to me that both sides of watchdoggery can be useful if that’s what it takes to look at the performance of public officials. Here’s the link to the article, I don’t think it’s paywalled.

The complaint does not include direct evidence from Protect the Public’s Trust that Culver benefited financially from any actions she took involving oil and gas policy or decisions involving ConocoPhillips.

But it notes that the Interior Department is expected in the coming weeks to issue a final decision on ConocoPhillips’ controversial Willow oil and gas drilling project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that is strongly opposed by environmental groups.

Culver, as BLM’s deputy director of policy and programs, testified in April 2021 before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on oil and gas policies, and answered questions about the Willow project from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) “without disclosing her interest in Conoco,” the complaint says.

“Ms. Culver’s testimony before the Senate clearly put her in a position where she could affect the marketability or market resale value of the bond through the public’s perception of the economic fortunes of Conoco,” the complaint says.

Protect the Public’s Trust has raised ethical questions with the IG’s office about Culver over the past couple of years.

The group in 2021 filed a complaint with the IG that alleged Culver violated agency ethics rules when she met with a previous employer on potential changes to the agency’s regulation of oil and gas development and climate change (Greenwire, Sept. 2, 2021).

The IG later issued a report that concluded Culver’s June 1, 2021, meeting with officials at the Wilderness Society did violate agency ethics rules. But it also concluded she violated the rules unintentionally and that her actions did not affect bureau policy decisions (Greenwire, Aug. 23, 2022).

Culver at the time was performing the duties of BLM director in the months prior to the Senate’s confirmation of Tracy Stone-Manning as bureau director.

Regardless of whether the IG agrees to conduct an ethics investigation, BLM during Culver’s time at there has been marked by revised policies and rules that have cracked down on oil and gas emissions, including a proposed rule targeting methane from oil and gas drilling on federal lands.

2 thoughts on “Ethics Watchdoggery at the BLM”

  1. If a former Trump official thinks that an environmental-leaning Biden official, who got no financial benefit, might have favored the oil industry and is “the most egregious example yet of the considerable disregard for ethics compliance at the Department of the Interior” during the Biden administration” – I think that’s a big compliment to the Biden administration. (Full disclosure, I have worked with Nada very briefly in the past.)

    • Of course, politicals are raising issues and putting them in the rhetorical worst light.. that is what partisans do. I just think it’s good to examine the activities of both kinds of administrations, not to compare, but to improve.


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