Skeptical Dems Question Trump Official on Lands, Indians
By Dan Elliott
Skeptical Democrats questioned a Trump administration official Tuesday on whether he's committed to preserving public lands and whether he respects Native Americans.
William Perry Pendley, acting director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, appeared before the House Natural Resources Committee in Washington to answer questions about the administration's plans to move bureau headquarters from the District of Columbia to the West, closer to the 388,000 square miles (1 million square kilometres) the agency oversees.
The toughest questions were about his attitude toward public lands and Native Americans.
Rep. Joe Neguse, a Colorado Democrat, asked Pendley about a 2016 article he wrote saying the nation's founders intended for the federal government to sell all its land.
``I have never advocated the wholesale disposal or transfer of those lands,'' Pendley said. ``I support the president and (Interior Secretary David) Bernhardt in their crystal-clear opposition to the wholesale disposal or transfer of public lands.''
Neguse asked if the word ``wholesale'' was a loophole that would allow the administration to sell or transfer land. Pendley replied that he was referring to Congress' authority to mandate transfers.
``There may be case-specific circumstances where we do transfer or dispose, but Congress is the boss,'' Pendley said.
Rep. Deb Haaland, a New Mexico Democrat and a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, brought up allegations that in a 2009 meeting of Republicans, Pendley mocked Native Americans for wanting to protect land they consider holy. She said Pendley reportedly used his fingers to indicate quotation marks around the word ``holy.''
She asked Pendley if that was appropriate for an employee of the Bureau of Land Management, which protects culturally important areas.
``I was not speaking as a member of the BLM. I was speaking as a private attorney representing private clients,'' Pendley said.
``So you were able to just forget what you did back then, and now that you're working for BLM, everything's OK?'' Haaland shot back.
Pendley answered that the American people are now his clients, and ``I'm a zealous advocate for my client.''
He said he was happy to now work with Native Americans, particularly on energy development.
Bernhardt named Pendley the acting head of the BLM in July. The agency oversees public land _ 99% of it in 12 Western states _ and balances competing demands from oil and gas drilling, mining, ranching, outdoor recreation and environmental protection.
Pendley is a longtime advocate for ranchers and others in disputes with the federal government over grazing and other uses of public lands. Environmental groups called his appointment alarming, but some Western ranchers were pleased, saying it was a sign the Trump administration was pushing to open public lands to all uses, including grazing and mining.
One of Pendley's first duties will be overseeing the administration's plan to move the bureau's headquarters to Grand Junction, in western Colorado, and disperse about 300 Washington-based employees across the West.
Most of the bureau's 10,000 employees are already in Western field offices, but Pendley repeated the administration's argument that moving most of the Washington staff to the West would lead to better, faster decisions.
When Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's delegate to Congress, asked whether moving so many employees West would leave a leadership vacuum in Washington, Pendley replied, ``I'll be here,'' along with budget and policy officials.
Interior Department spokesman Russell Newell said later that Pendley would remain in Washington in his permanent role as deputy director for policy and programs. Newell said the next permanent director would be based in Grand Junction.
The Canadian Press & the Associated Press. All rights are reserved.
Oil Drilling Plan Near Utah Monument Draws Tribal Opposition
By Morgan Smith
The U.S. government will allow oil and gas companies to make lease bids Monday on lands considered archaeologically sensitive near a national monument stretching across the Utah-Colorado border that houses sacred tribal sites.
Included in the Bureau of Land Management's September oil and gas lease sale is about 47 square miles (122 square kilometres) of land north of Hovenweep National Monument, a group of prehistoric villages overlooking a canyon with connections to several indigenous tribes throughout the U.S. Southwest. The parcels for lease are about five to 20 miles (eight to 32 kilometres) north of the monument.
The sale comes amid an ongoing debate over drilling in states like Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, where a coalition of tribes are calling for a halt on energy development near land that Native Americans consider sacred.
The Trump administration has pushed to open vast expanses of public lands to oil and gas drilling, speed up the construction of petroleum pipelines and ease federal environmental regulations, dismissing calls from scientists in and out of government that immediate cuts in oil, gas and coal emissions are required to stave off the worst of climate change.
The plan was met with criticism from environmentalists and tribal organizations, who argued drilling on the high desert would damage the prehistoric structures and pollute the air.
``When this oil and gas leasing happens on or near sacred lands, it risks de-stabilizing the bedrock (of the structures),'' said Ahjani Yepa, a member of Utah Dine Bikeyah, a Navajo grass-roots organization. ``Hovenweep is in all of our stories, and to threaten the integrity of these structures jeopardizes everything we've carried forward as resilient people.''
Environmentalists and local business owners have also expressed concern over the impacts on water resources in rural communities and tourism from outdoor recreation that helps local economies.
Hovenweep was designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2014 by the International Dark-Sky Association, recognized for its striking night skies and star-gazing opportunities. Southeast Utah is known for its sweeping desert landscapes and expansive night skies. The state has 11 internationally recognized ``Dark Sky Parks,'' the most of any state.
Business owners in Bluff said the dark skies drive tourism to Hovenweep, and feared industrial light pollution, as well as the sounds and smells of energy development, could drive visitors away.
Kathleen Sgamma of the oil industry trade group Western Energy Alliance countered that the plans are far from the boundaries of the monument.
``They're making sure companies are operating in a responsible way while meeting the call from Congress to expand oil and gas development,'' she said.
Kimberly Finch, a Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman, said every lease includes a cultural resource protection requirement that allows the agency to modify plans if impacts to cultural resources can't be avoided or minimized.
As of Monday afternoon, Finch said there were no results to share and the sale would continue until at least Tuesday.
The agency says in planning documents that companies should take steps to protect the environmental and cultural landscape of the area, including limiting the use of artificial light at drilling sites and protecting useable groundwater aquifers from drilling.
Companies must obtain permits and go through environmental reviews before they begin construction or drilling. Some leases go years before drilling or expire before any activity occurs.
Still, environmentalists and Native Americans invested in the land said such documents fail to address a larger trend of leasing increasingly more land on or near sensitive tribal landscapes. Parcels near Hovenweep were offered, then deferred, in a March BLM lease sale, and new documents for an upcoming December lease sale show more land will be up for grabs.
Juana Charlie, a member of the Pueblo of Acoma, said it's been difficult to negotiate with the BLM on cultural protections.
``At least we have our little foot in the door, but that's as far as we've gotten,'' she said. ``They argue these lands are abandoned, but they're not, we use them in our prayers, we visit them . you wouldn't like it if I went into your home, your land, and started digging.''
The Bureau of Land Management would benefit from more community outreach and long-term planning to lease parcels on sensitive landscapes, said Erika Pollard, an associate director with the National Parks Conservation Association. But the new ``energy-dominated era'' she said we're in has made public input on these processes harder.
``When you drive by Hovenweep, it feels like you're travelling back in time . having that landscape dotted with oil rigs and factories changes everything,'' she said. ``We have to think, 'what legacy do we want to leave in Utah?'''
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