How the Interior Department silenced public advisory committees

Analysis shows that after political meddling most BLM Resource Advisory Councils are rife with vacancies and inactive

Jesse Prentice-Dunn
Oct 8 · 4 min read
Hiking the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail in California | Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management

For decades, the Bureau of Land Management has chartered dozens of Resource Advisory Councils (RACs) around the West, each stocked with a diverse range of public stakeholders who provide input on land management decisions in their region. These committees represent one of the most important venues for the agency to hear directly from the public on a broad range of issues, including conservation, drilling, and grazing. But under the Trump administration, the Interior Department has actively worked to undermine these committees, first suspending all of them, then reinstating many with politically-driven charters.

An analysis of the Bureau of Land Management website conducted by the Center for Western Priorities finds that 30 of the 37 Resource Advisory Councils have been reinstated by the Trump administration with politically-motivated mandates. The remaining seven RACs appear not to have renewed charters. Of the 30 Trump-chartered RACs, 17 have not met under their new charter. In sum, more than half of all RACs — 20 of 37 — have not met since 2017.

The Trump administration suspended BLM Resource Advisory Councils

In May 2017, shortly after taking office, then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke abruptly announced he would formally review whether to alter or eliminate more than 200 various advisory committees that assist the agency in managing our public lands. As a part of that review, Zinke ordered the 37 formally chartered Resource Advisory Councils maintained by the Bureau of Land Management to suspend their activities.

At the time, dozens of RAC members asked Zinke to immediately reinstate the committees, writing, “RAC members represent diverse public interests, engage in thoughtful debate, and provide meaningful management recommendations to the BLM and other land management agencies with local perspective. As a result, RACs have made invaluable contributions over the last two decades, including recommending improvements to BLM grazing management, review and input on critical energy development proposals, and suggestions for the thoughtful management of increasing recreational demands on our public lands.”

Reinstating RACs, but as a political rubber stamp

It took nearly an entire year for Zinke to begin renewing the charters of several RACs. In doing so he added politically-charged language to their charters, directing them to identify “additional steps to enhance exploration and development of Federal onshore oil and gas resources and Federal solid mineral resources” and identify regulations that “eliminate jobs or inhibit job creation” for repeal or replacement. Committee members were shocked at the efforts to politicize what had been non-political public advisory bodies.

Excerpt from the renewed charter for Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Resource Advisory Council

Scott Braden, a member of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain RAC, told E&E News, “To have the charter injected with highly controversial Trump administration priorities, telling us instead of representing our communities… we need to help implement the priorities of this administration, which in many cases run counter to the communities covered within the RAC, is something we are very concerned about.” Similarly, Mariana Maguire, a member of the California Desert District Advisory Council, responded,“It sounds like the administration has made the decision to favor oil and gas production on public lands over all else and is now looking for the validation to advance those decisions.”

Most Resource Advisory Committees now sit idle, rife with vacancies

After their politically-driven suspension and reinstatement, most Resource Advisory Councils are withering on the vine. The Trump administration has not renewed the charters for any RACs in Montana or the Dakotas, and none of the four committees representing those states have met since March of 2017. Similarly, the three RACs representing western Oregon sit idle, the terms of all of their members having expired. In Colorado, the Rocky Mountain RAC lists vacancies for 13 of its 15 members, with the remaining two set to expire in December.

In California, four of the five chartered committees appear not to have met since 2016, and the lone operating council lists vacancies for 5 of its 15 members. In Nevada, none of the three chartered RACs have met since being reinstated by then-Secretary Zinke. Similarly, the two councils representing Washington have not met under their new charters.

Source | Analysis of Bureau of Land Management Website

Throughout the Trump administration, the Interior Department has moved at a breakneck pace to implement the policy priorities of the drilling and mining industries. The agency has offered nearly 19 million acres of oil and gas leases, eliminated protections for more than 13.5 million acres of public lands once protected by mineral withdrawals or as national monuments, gutted wildlife protections, and pressed ahead with permits for new mines. In their quest to drill and mine across the West, the Interior Department has repeatedly suppressed and dismissed input from the public. It’s clear that BLM’s Resource Advisory Councils and their decades-long track record of supplying vital input from a diverse range of public stakeholders are just the latest victim of this administration’s extractive agenda.

For more information, visit westernpriorities.org. Sign up for Look West to get daily public lands and energy news sent to your inbox, or subscribe to Go West, Young Podcast.

Westwise

Stories about public lands and the outdoors from the Center for Western Priorities

Jesse Prentice-Dunn

Written by

Policy Director | Center for Western Priorities | Denver, CO

Westwise

Westwise

Stories about public lands and the outdoors from the Center for Western Priorities

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