PRESS RELEASE

BLM Fires Migratory Bird Whistleblower on Second Try

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, November 29, 2021
Contact
Peter Jenkins pjenkins@peer.org (202) 265-4189

BLM Fires Migratory Bird Whistleblower on Second Try

Case Is Early Litmus Test of Whether Hidebound BLM Will Be Reformed

 

Washington, DC — A two-year effort by senior Wyoming Bureau of Land Management officials to terminate an environmental analyst who had embarrassed them for ignoring harms to migratory birds has culminated in his removal from federal service. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) today filed an appeal to overturn BLM’s action as factually unfounded, improperly executed, and in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act.

Walter Loewen, a military veteran, had spent the past 16 years as a specialist in implementation or planning under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). He had done NEPA reviews in several agencies, the last six years at BLM in Wyoming. He had received cash awards and other recognition for the quality of his NEPA work.

During the late Trump years, his career trajectory nosedived, however. Things came to a head when he objected to senior officials not addressing major adverse impacts on migratory birds, such as the loss of nesting sites for ferruginous hawks, kestrels, owls, and other raptors, under a plan for 5,000 oil and gas wells, 1,400 miles of gas and water pipelines, new roads, and electrical lines in Converse County. BLM compounded those concerns by removing key restrictions on drilling and other work during bird breeding and nesting periods.

In response, BLM Wyoming Branch Chief for Planning, Social, and Cultural Resources, Jennifer Fleuret McConchie, stripped most of Loewen’s duties and then began developing a proposed removal from federal service, which she filed on February 19, 2021. That proposal was withdrawn four months later but on the same day, June17th, he was handed a new proposed removal based on the same facts. This newer proposal, which was upheld last week, is premised on Loewen’s allegedly poor NEPA performance.

“Given the BLM’s record of butchering NEPA during the Trump years, this action can be understood as a chastised bureaucracy seeking to kill the messenger,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins. “We look forward to highlighting the pro-oil and gas industry dysfunction within the Wyoming State Office and how that led to this counterproductive decision.”

The Trump policy of allowing migratory birds to be killed or harmed by oil and other industrial operations has since been reversed under Biden. The issues Loewen raised were among the reasons why the NEPA review of the Converse County mega-project was highly controversial.

Another irony is that BLM wants to continue using the same summary termination process adopted under Trump’s anti-civil service personnel policies to justify Loewen’s removal. The Biden administration has rescinded those Trump policies.

“The demonstrated incompetence of the managers behind both the botched Converse County review and this contrived personnel action should disqualify them from judging anybody else’s competence,” added Jenkins, noting that a new BLM Director appointed by Biden has recently been confirmed.

The PEER appeal has been filed before the U.S. Merit Systems Board, the federal civil service court, and will likely come to a hearing early next year.

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See summary of Loewen’s appeal arguments

Look at the history of this case 

Read about reversal of Trump’s weakening of migratory bird laws