Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, recently let fly a tragically hilarious overview of the most recent scandal surrounding the U.S. Department of Interior.
The heart of our democratic government is compromise and polling, so the Democrats blink and pass a bill allowing offshore drilling.
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Last Thursday, the Inspector General for the Department of the Interior reported that federal employees at Interior’s Minerals Management Service in Denver Colorado had engaged in sex and used drugs with energy company employees, provided information to industry favorites, and accepted thousands of dollars in gifts from oil and gas industry operatives while handling contracts worth billions of dollars for oil and gas resources on public land. Ironically, the U.S. Office of Government Ethics had recognized the Interior Department just three days earlier with a “2008 Education and Communication Award” “for developing a dynamic laminated Ethics Guide for employees.” One wonders if the guide was laminated to protect it from spilled liquor and jacuzzi bubbles.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dale Hall also received an award last week. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies honored Director Hall with a lifetime achievement award for working with states and conservation partners to conserve wildlife resources in the United States. The absurdity continues. Prior to being promoted to director of USFWS, Dale Hall was criticized by his own employees for his domineering and unethical management of the agency’s Southwest Regional Office. A survey of Southwest Region employees in 2005 found that:
- More than one in four respondents (29%) reported being “directed to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from a USFWS scientific document,” the highest percentage reported by any USFWS region.
- Two-thirds of respondents whose work is related to scientific findings on endangered species reported being “directed, for non-scientific reasons to refrain from making…findings that are protective of species.”
- Two in five scientists (41%), more than in any other region, believed the agency did not “routinely provide complete and accurate information to the public on ESA issues.”
- Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) did not believe the USFWS fostered a work ethic that promotes the agency’s conservation mission.
- Nearly three in four respondents (73%) did not believe the agency “is moving in the right direction.”
- More than three-quarters (85%) believed the USFWS was not “acting effectively to maintain or enhance species and their habitats, so as to avoid possible listings under the Endangered Species Act.”
- For those species already listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, more than nine out of 10 (95%) did not regard the USFWS as effective in its efforts toward recovery of those listed species.
- Four out of five respondents (83%) did not “trust USFWS decision makers to make decisions that will protect species and habitats.”
- Fewer than one in five (19%) respected the “integrity and professionalism” of their agency heads.
Despite these findings—or perhaps because of them—the Bush Administration determined that Hall’s record warranted his ascension to director of USFWS, where he presided over the longest species listing drought in the history of the Endangered Species Act and despite a long list of species that need protection under the act.
BLM is currently taking public comment
Santa Fe-The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has agreed to reconsider its allowing oil and gas drilling activities in critical wildlife habitat in Northwest New Mexico. BLM is currently taking public comment on whether to allow exceptions to rules that protect wildlife during key breeding and wintering periods.
Pollution, noise, and physical barriers like pits and trenches from oil and gas drilling and construction activities severely endanger wildlife like elk, pronghorn and deer during winter when wildlife are already facing challenges to survival. While BLM adopted seasonal closures of public lands in New Mexico to oil and gas activities to protect wildlife, it has allowed these seasonal closures to be systematically violated due to pressure from the oil and gas industry and the Republican administration’s Energy Plan. WildEarth Guardians, a west-wide conservation group, reviewed the government’s own documents and found nearly 1,000 breaches of seasonal closures in New Mexico, including 441 in the northwestern portion of the state.
In May of this year, WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit in federal district court against BLM over the agency’s allowing breaches of seasonal closures designed to protect wildlife. In July, BLM sent out a letter indicating that it was reconsidering the granting of permission to oil and gas companies to breach the seasonal closures designed to protect wildlife. BLM is taking public comment on its reconsideration until August 20th. A copy of BLM’s letter, which includes the address to mail public comments, can be found at: http://ga4.org/guardians/notice-description.tcl?newsletter_id=26333625
Dr. Nicole Rosmarino, WildEarth Guardians’ Wildlife Program Director, said: “BLM promised the public that wildlife would enjoy increased protection from oil and gas drilling during critical winter periods but has routinely broken that promise. Hopefully BLM will provide wildlife more of the protection it needs, rather than allowing a mad rush to drill our public lands.” In addition to WildEarth Guardians, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and members of the New Mexico Game Commission have voiced concerns over the BLM’s pattern of allowing exceptions to wildlife closures.
In an earlier lawsuit in 2005, WildEarth Guardians, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, and the Chihuahuan Desert Conservation Alliance sued the BLM over allowing exceptions to timing restrictions designed to protect lesser prairie-chickens in southeast New Mexico. The lesser prairie-chicken is an imperiled bird that has been a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection for over a decade. The lawsuit was settled with the requirement that BLM conduct surveys for the bird and solicit public comment prior to allowing those exceptions. Since the settlement, fewer than 10 exceptions have been granted annually in lesser prairie-chicken habitat.