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Interior Dept. rife with conflicts of interest


Rockies Today

September 30 · Issue #8 · View online
The big stories up and down the Rocky Mountains, curated by Mountain West News

BLM boss Pendley releases long recusal list
Acting Bureau of Land Management Director William Perry Pendley, until recently a prominent Western property-rights lawyer, has identified 57 clients and current business associates whose dealings with the BLM could pose conflicts of interest in his role as a politically appointed agency leader, as The Salt Lake Tribune’s Brian Maffly reported last week.
Trump’s land boss pledges to steer clear of ex-clients Trump’s land boss pledges to steer clear of ex-clients
Also this week, the Interior Department affirmed in court filings that Pendley has been recused from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument planning, now reaching the finish line, but confusion persists over his role in the litigation surrounding the Trump administration’s controversial order reducing the Utah monument by half.
His list includes Colorado property owner Michael Whited, whom Perry represented in a lawsuit accusing the BLM of mismanaging land adjacent to Whited’s. In a blog post about the case, Pendley decried the BLM as “the worst neighbor you can imagine.”
Also named is Marvin Brandt, a Wyoming property owner objecting to bicycles using a rail right of way through his property. The list of former clients includes mining industry groups, farm bureaus, air tour operators, the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, a shooting club and several other landowners in disputes with federal agencies.
Western Dems want acting BLM director pushed out ‘immediately’
And E&E News examines Pendley’s previous three-year stint at Interior:
Pendley's Reagan years: Leasing zeal spurs coal 'fire sale'
When the Interior Department, months after President Reagan took office, was planning its first sale for coal in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, William Perry Pendley weighed in, advocating for the “highest possible level of leasing.”
“Our objective should be to lease more than enough coal to allow the states, industry, and the market place to function freely,” Pendley wrote in a May 1981 memo on behalf of Interior’s energy and minerals offices, pushing for an unprecedented 18 tracts of land containing 2.5 billion tons of coal to be offered.
“‘Excess’ leasing neither degrades the environment nor creates community impacts,” the 36-year-old Marine veteran and former congressional staffer argued. “The deliberate or unconscious constraint on the market by withholding Federal coal — and especially low cost coal — can have serious economic consequences.”
Pendley later called the lease sale, which sold the rights to a 1.6 billion tons of recoverable coal, “tremendously successful” in a speech at an industry event in Wyoming.
But by most accounts, the 1982 sale and another for the Powder River Basin later that year were fiascos. 
More potential conflicts of interest within Interior
The Interior secretary wants to enlarge a dam. An old lobbying client would benefit.
Trump’s Fish and Wildlife pick is entangled with industry
And more goings on across the Interior Department
Trump’s Interior says ‘There is not a climate crisis’
Lawmakers show bipartisan irritation with Interior over withheld documents
Smith out, Vela in as NPS acting director
Stepping into the breach
Courts can’t keep Columbia and Snake River salmon from the edge of extinction Courts can’t keep Columbia and Snake River salmon from the edge of extinction
On Sept. 20, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted to close all fall steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River and part of the Snake, tributaries of the Columbia, because so few fish had returned from the ocean. These steelhead are one of 13 threatened or endangered salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Since the Columbia Basin’s rivers were impounded by dams — including four on the Lower Snake, and more than a dozen on the Columbia itself — a handful of salmon populations have died out. Now, about two-thirds of the remaining runs are at high risk of extinction. Compared to pre-dam returns in the 1950s, only 3% of wild sockeye and spring- and summer-run chinook, and 15% of  wild steelhead, returned to the upper Snake last year, according to an analysis by the advocacy group Save our Wild Salmon. This year, returns look even worse.
Years of low salmon numbers, concern over endangered orcas that feed on salmon, and cracks in political support for the Lower Snake dams are breathing new life into the fight to breach those dams. For decades, lawsuits by tribal nations, state agencies and fishing and conservation organizations have forced changes in dam management aimed at improving fish survival. But those court-ordered tweaks haven’t pulled salmon back from the brink. Now, salmon advocates are looking to the court of public opinion in their quest to see the Lower Snake River dams removed. 
As Jim Robbins reported for the Times two weeks ago…
How long before these salmon are gone? ‘Maybe 20 years’
Skepticism surrounds Navajo Nation's coal buy
Amid skepticism from Navajo Nation, study deems Cloud Peak coal mines purchase ‘prudent’ Amid skepticism from Navajo Nation, study deems Cloud Peak coal mines purchase ‘prudent’
The Navajo Nation-based company said it hopes to close the sale in early October. But the investment has faced mounting criticism from Diné communities. Many fear the investment is too risky for the tribal enterprise, especially during a time when demand for Powder River Basin coal wanes.
But the company has been steadfast in its belief that the purchase will generate millions of dollars in revenue for the Navajo Nation. To prove its point, the company assessed the financial viability of the three thermal coal mines in a study published Thursday. The purchase of the three mines is a “prudent” decision, the study concluded.
But some analysts and members of the Navajo Nation were not convinced by the rosy report. Many remain concerned about what they see as risks associated with the purchase.
“We still have a lot of questions, concerns and frustrations with the lack of transparency to the Navajo public, our communities and to the council,” said Robyn Jackson, climate and energy outreach coordinator of Diné C.A.R.E., an organization on the Navajo Nation advocating for Diné communities and the environment.
Though the new owner would not assume the nearly $350 million in senior debt left over from Cloud Peak’s days owning the mines, NTEC still needs to post sufficient bond for reclamation obligations.
“We don’t think it’s a wise purchase, these three mines and the reclamation projects associated with them,” Jackson said. “This is something that is way out of our region. I don’t think that NTEC or our tribal government understands all of the responsibilities and liabilities associated with those mines. We already have a lot to take care of on the Navajo Nation, it is incredibly concerning to take on the cleanup elsewhere.”
A report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis called the sale “fraught with financial risk.” In the last four years, Cloud Peak’s revenue dropped by some $500 million, according to the report. Production came down with it, being nearly slashed in half.
Navajo leaders say they weren’t informed about the Navajo Transitional Energy Company’s purchase of Cloud Peak’s coal mines, as the Navajo Times reports:
A deal ‘that cannot and should not be supported’: Delegates, Nez question NTEC purchase of coal mines
Landless no more?
After 130 years, the Little Shell Tribe's fight for tribal recognition is almost over After 130 years, the Little Shell Tribe's fight for tribal recognition is almost over
The Little Shell—a polyethnic people primarily of Chippewa Cree, Assiniboine, and Métis descent—are one of more than 400 unrecognized tribes across the United States. Many of these tribes have been denied federal recognition through administrative and legislative processes that are notoriously slow and unresponsive. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has only recognized 18 tribes since 1978, when the US first established a procedure for administrative acknowledgement. Until recently, Congress provided a more productive path, recognizing 38 tribes over the same time period. But most of those successes happened early: Since 1995, Congress has passed only two bills—recognizing seven tribes between them—while more than 80 tribal recognition bills have died.
Today, the Little Shell people are poised to disrupt this trend of inaction and dysfunction. This spring, after 12 years of trying, their bill finally passed the US House of Representatives as a stand-alone measure and the Senate as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). To become law, it now must be approved by a joint conference of the House and Senate Armed Forces committees, which will resolve differences between the two chambers’ existing versions of the NDAA. Before the year is up, the entire package must then clear both chambers a second time. If lawmakers complete these steps, they will finish a legislative task that has been completed only twice in a quarter century. And for the first time in US history, they will begin a government-to-government relationship between the United States and the Little Shell people.
More stories we're reading today
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Montana's rural schools squeezed
Rural Alberta coping with $81 million shortfall in oil and gas taxes. How did we get here?
Slurry wells: The answer for radioactive oilfield waste disposal?
Xcel Energy, partners announce deal for large solar facility at Pueblo steel mill
Is pot part of Denver’s ozone headache? That’s what researchers want to find out
Climate change could cause drought in wheat-growing areas
Feds again seek comment on North Cascades grizzly bear plans
A remote island sees just a third of its pelicans return for breeding season
In a new study on bird loss, some scientists say subtlety is lost, too
EIA projects global energy-related CO2 emissions will increase through 2050
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O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, 59812