All the News That Fits the Narrative; Rock Springs RMP, Schuller Interview with EPA EJ Administrator

We’ve been having a discussion on various aspect of the Rock Springs Wyoming RMP.   A few things have come my way that are of interest relating to that, and also the role of communities.
First, Tisha Schuller talks with the deputy assistant administrator for EJ at EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights on her Energy Thinks podcast. I didn’t listen to the whole thing but she shared a few quotes.
On EPA’s growing focus on EJ: 
“It is the first time in government—not just in the United States but in the history of humankind—that we have real funding at the same time that we have real political support not only to change the systems and structures of governance but to do so in an equitable way.”

Hmm.. count me skeptical as to the role of one federal agency (or even the current Admin, which is, after all one of three branches of the federal government) in changing “the systems and structures of governance” in an “equitable way.” Not that I have a problem with equity, but I think its use and meaning are contested.

On placing communities at the head of the table:
“None of us want to live in a place where we’re not heard. None of us want to live in a community where things are done to it and you don’t have anything to say about it. None of us want to live in that place. Communities with EJ concerns want to be heard.”

“Communities with EJ concerns” is a term also used in the proposed NEPA regs (more on those next week). Rather than define what EJ communities are or aren’t, we now have communities with concerns. For example, my somewhat neighboring community of Kiowa is not thrilled about new high voltage powerlines (this is all private as part of Colorado’s Power Pathway, so no federal nexus except for endangered species and National Park viewsheds). There are quite a few different parameters that could be indexed in different ways (for example, east of there is a food desert). So depending on the way you index, it could be an EJ community or not. If you were to define what one is. But any community seemingly could have EJ concerns, and is there an arbiter of what are legitimate concerns or not? It’s all not exactly transparent or clear. In my experience, when people dream up abstractions and are intentionally not clear about who is in and who is out.. other people are making the determination, usually for small or large political reasons.

Of course, there’s “being heard” and “having your say determine the outcome”; plus not all people in communities agree. People in the federal land management space know this landscape quite well over many decisions large and small. It seems in the broader world of new energy buildout, other organizations and NGOs are discovering these complexities.

The NY Times on Rock Springs decision..

This was quite timely. Note the tagline ..

Explosive reactions to the proposal, which would limit drilling, show how the president’s climate policies are crashing into walls in some oil and gas states.

The journalist, Lisa Friedman (no relation) seems like a nice person. At one Society of Environmental Journalists meeting I attended, she (and other reporters from Coastal Media) seemed extraordinarily interested in Pendley’s (he was there) attitude toward climate change. As if somehow the BLM were the key to worldwide decarbonization. It felt a little weird to me, especially since I wanted to ask him about e-bikes. Oh well.

As a candidate, Mr. Biden pledged to end new federal oil and gas leasing. And, as president, he has said he wants to conserve at least 30 percent of public lands and waters by 2030. Both are part of an aggressive agenda to curb climate change, though Mr. Biden has approved some large fossil fuel projects. Political and legal concerns have played a role in those decisions.

I guess you can state that “conserving” 30 percent of land” is an “aggressive approach to curb climate change, but I wonder whether if the protected areas don’t allow fuel reduction.. they actually do that. Plus some of us might see a conflict between renewable build-out and “conserving.” Without a map, though, why would we believe that they are compatible? Otherwise it’s just political arm-waving attempts to placate renewable and ENGO interests. And as we have seen with the BLM conservation rule and the proposed CEQ NEPA regs, when renewable buildout and “protection” meet, renewables lose.

“We are in a bit of a bubble here right now with Ukraine and the Middle East,” said Mark Squillace, a law professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. Mr. Squillace said if oil prices climbed there could be heightened interest in federal oil and gas leasing, but only in the short term.

Mark is another great person, and I’d like to think we’re in a “bubble” but I don’t know what our foreign policy will be nor how others will react. The fact is that no one knows.

“I think we all know that in the next 20 years or so there’s going to be a whole lot less oil and gas production, because of the trends that we’re seeing with electric vehicles and renewable energy,” Mr. Squillace said. Wyoming, which also is grappling with collapsing demand for its coal, he added, “should, of all states, know the consequences of not managing their land.”

I don’t understand exactly what that means.

Ah.. the “backlash”

The backlash began almost immediately. Lawmakers accused the Biden administration of trying to pull Wyoming “back to the Stone Age.” Governor Gordon sent a letter to the Bureau of Land Management director asking the agency to withdraw the entire plan. A local sheriff declared he would not enforce the plan if it were finalized.

The director of the Bureau of Land Management’s field office in Rock Springs, Wyo., Kimberlee Foster, told a local news outlet that her staff members had begun receiving threatening calls were being investigated by the F.B.I. “It’s not really about specifics in the document,” Ms. Foster said. “The hate has been more political in nature.”

Pivot to “incipient Bundys”. Lawmakers quote.. Governor Gordon’s letter (which was pretty mild for a politician), a sheriff.. yup.

“The situation is ripe for this sort of anger to come to the surface,” said State Senator Brian Boner, a Republican. He noted the federal government already owned nearly half, 48 percent, of Wyoming land. “You feel like you don’t really have a voice in the way your state moves forward, and in this instance there’s a significant threat to peoples’ livelihoods,” he said.

So let’s go back to Tisha’s podcast:

None of us want to live in a place where we’re not heard. None of us want to live in a community where things are done to it and you don’t have anything to say about it. None of us want to live in that place

What’s interesting about the Times story is that it’s all about oil and gas, not about the process, which is what Gordon’s letter was about. Does not mention the political back and forth concern, as in the Cowboy State Daily report discussed previously, and as we shall see there’s other info not included.

Indeed “all the news that fits the narrative”. Oil and gas bad and not needed, check. Republicans bad, check. Westerners dangerous and incipient Bundys, check. Are the facts wrong? Probably not. Does fitting the info to a narrative leave a lot out and not actually help our understanding of what’s going on? Yes.

Good thing we have the Cowboy State Daily and Wyofile!

10 thoughts on “All the News That Fits the Narrative; Rock Springs RMP, Schuller Interview with EPA EJ Administrator”

  1. And the “Oil City News”

    This article includes maps that show what is going to change. It also describes the tool that BLM is going to use to limit development – “right-of-way exclusion areas” (which would also affect renewable energy developments and transmission).

    “The proposed rights-of-way exclusion areas take into account conservation values weighed against “marginal” energy yield opportunities in yet-to-be-developed areas, according to the BLM. Legislative leaders, however, say it’s another example of the agency’s failure to find a balance that doesn’t harm Wyoming’s “bedrock industries.””

    I’m not aware of any obligation for federal land management to protect anyone’s “bedrock industries.” (In fact the FLPMA requirement for a consistency review necessarily acknowledges that inconsistency is ok.) To listen and explain, yes, but not to “do what we say.” And it’s not like this hasn’t been a common complaint by environmental interests; it’s not surprising that the shoe on the other foot isn’t too comfortable. But this is just a draft, and this is what the public comment period is for.

    Also this from “Sweetwater Now” on road closures:

    “One of the more spoken-about aspects of the plan is a paragraph that refers to the closure of more than 10,000 miles of trails and roads in the Rock Springs Management Area. The BLM has previously said this addition was a mistake in the draft and none of the alternatives floated by the agency involve mass closure of trails and roads. However, many have taken a skeptical stance on comments made about paragraph being erroneously placed and would be removed, including Gordon.”

    • From what I’ve read, the road closures would be in a later transportation plan. So I think you would have to interpret the direction in the RMP as to how that would guide closures to get miles potentially closed. It could be kind of a sleight of decision.. as folks have accused the FS.. “hey the plan just gives generalized direction, don’t worry. Whoops the next travel management is required to take the Plan very seriously.”

      Of course they don’t trust the politicals at the BLM to listen to them, given this, would you?
      As to protecting bedrock industries, let’s do a thought experiment.
      FS revokes ski area permits based on climate change concerns -too many people arriving using gasoline and disrupting critical lynx habitat. Same argument, feds don’t have any obligation to protect any state industries..

      • No obligation to provide ski areas (beyond the requirements of existing contracts). If your point is about the politics, that would probably play the same way, too.
        (There may be a legal obligation to provide lynx habitat.)

    • Just one example of the other foot (not far from Rock Springs):

      In a lawsuit filed July 28, the Albany County Conservancy (Laramie, Wyoming) and a retired Fish and Wildlife Service biologist are claiming that the BLM’s Environmental Assessment of the effects of the Rock Creek Wind gen-tie transmission line was inadequate. This line would connect the proposed commercial-scale Rock Creek Wind project to the Gateway South and Gateway West multistate transmission lines. The complaint (linked to the article) alleges:
      “Here, however, BLM decided that those stakeholders’ views do not matter. BLM chose instead to conduct its review of the Project in secret—without any public notice or input whatsoever—despite explicit and repeated requests from the public to participate in the NEPA process.”

    • Or if you’d like an example of local government and forest plans:

      “As expected, Gunnison County has formally objected to the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests (GMUG) final draft for land planning and management based on the plan’s lack of consideration for local stakeholders’ own recommendations and the plan’s aggressive increase in timber harvesting and motorized recreation without following procedures for those decisions.”

  2. One more take on this from exiled former BLM director William Perry Pendley:
    He is encouraging the state to sue.

    “Wyoming will likely win if it ends up in court against the federal Bureau of Land Management over its controversial Rock Springs Resource Management Plan, said the agency’s former director… The proposed ACES designation for half the Rock Springs area is tantamount to declaring that area wilderness, or land that must be preserved and left completely undisturbed, he said. And only Congress has the authority to make such declarations through the Wilderness Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act or similar measures, Pendley said.”

    “They’re not talking about conservation. They’re talking about preservation,” Pendley said. “Conservation is not preservation. It means wise use. It means using resources in a way that maintains them. It means multiple use and sustained yield.””

    Pendley seems to have the same misconception about multiple use that Bob Zybach does. Even preservation provides for multiple uses like recreation and fish and wildlife.

    MUSYA says that, “some land will be used for less than all of the resources.” Here’s how BLM puts it: “Thus the Bureau cannot narrowly focus on a single activity at the expense of other authorized uses of the public land. Nevertheless, consistent with the BLM’s goal of good stewardship, “multiple use” does not mean every use on every acre.”

    But then, William Perry Pendley is not known for his legal acuity.

    PS – After writing this I saw that the Cowboy State Daily provided a rebuttal that elaborates a lot more on multiple use.

    • I’m not sure “rebuttal” is the right word.. I think it’s safe to say that we could have many productive discussions in the wide space between Pendley and Molvar.

    • Hi Jon: I am not familiar with Pendley, but I’m very familiar with your consistent digs at me and your odd preoccupation with my perspectives. To say that “Pendley seems to have the same misconception about multiple use that Bob Zybach does,” is to infer that you are more intelligent than either me or Pendley and omnipotent to the degree that you can read my mind. These kinds of statements come across as both arrogant and stupid. No idea why you persist with this juvenile nonsense, but if you find it entertaining or satisfying in some way, please continue. The risk is just further degradation of your own credibility, though, and a clear display of your continued pettiness. Open debate is fine. Snide comments became tiresome a while ago.

      • Here was what you said. “How in hell are LSRs, HCPs, and other passively managed tracts of forest in any way “entirely consistent with multiple use?” Or are we just going to redefine “multiple use” the same way we did with “conservation?””

        I was pointing out the similarity of Pendley’s comments, and I linked to the response to yours, where I had already provided court opinions (not my opinion) explaining multiple use. (Nothing personal.)

        • Sounds like you’re the “denier” now, Jon. There was zero reason to bring my name into this, or to label my perceptions — which you continue to distort — as “misconceptions.” Seems kind of “personal” to me — otherwise, why are you specifically identifying me by name in a negative way in a discussion entirely unrelated to me? Again.


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