Denver – Oil industry executives will have a closed-door meeting with top Department of Interior officials tomorrow morning to discuss industry complaints about individual agency field managers, according to the text of an e-mail released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Citing recent industry-inspired transfers of agency managers, PEER has filed a letter of concern asking Interior to forswear industry influence over future personnel decisions.
The meeting of the Independent Petroleum Association of the Mountain States (IPAMS) will take place at the Pinnacle Club in Denver and feature Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles, the number two official in the agency, Assistant Secretary for Lands & Minerals Rebecca Watson and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Kathleen Clarke.
According to the e-mail notice to IPAMS members, the stated purpose of the meeting is to “improve land access and permitting in the Rocky Mountain States.” The e-mail invited members to submit “Specific concerns about BLM Field Offices and Personnel.”
Noting that Mr. Griles and Ms. Watson previously represented extractive industries as lobbyists and lawyers, PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch commented, “These Interior officials appear to be continuing to act as industry lobbyists even after taking an oath to faithfully execute the laws of the United States.”
BLM is embroiled in major decisions concerning development of coal bed methane in the Powder River Basin. Last month, BLM coal bed methane permits were invalidated by the Interior Appeal Board and criticized in internal EPA assessments.
In recent months, BLM has become much more aggressive in increasing energy-related permitting, including awarding commendations to managers who approve the most permits. At the same time, BLM has removed managers in Western states who have drawn the ire of industry groups.
“The message sent by these closed door meetings is that Interior managers will risk their careers if they displease energy producers, regardless of the damages to the national resources in their care,” Ruch concluded.