Bureau Of Land Management Decides It's Going To Be A Lot Less Receptive To FOIA Requests

from the adding-power,-subtracting-accountability dept

The new administration's plan to undo everything Obama ever did (along with lots of stuff other presidents put in place) continues. Fighting leakers and multiple investigations, the Trump administration is steamrolling regulation by slashing through red tape and common sense with equal aplomb. This administration may have a reputation for inadvertent openness, but its new directives aren't so much draining the swamp as building a swamp in its own image.

The Bureau of Land Management is apparently viewed as the Fed version of Greenpeace. Previously-protected federal lands are being opened up for business, starting with the removal of environmental impact reviews. This should speed up the return of the government's land to certain people -- mining companies, the CBP's inland expeditions, wall builders, etc. This affects nearly 950 million acres of federal land. A raft of exclusions would make it easier for the Bureau of Land Management to manage land however it sees fit.

The package, which includes policy changes with immediate impact as well as regulatory and legislative proposals that would take more time to execute, would eliminate lengthy federal reviews in many instances through “categorical exclusions” if officials determine the activities have no environmental impact.

Such exclusions would cover everything from the BLM’s coal leases to efforts to euthanize wild horses and burros. Such an exclusion also would be pursued for “oil and gas wells that run horizontally from private wells into adjacent federal minerals,” according to the document.

But that's not the only thing the BLM is doing. As its power expands, it's working to scale back its transparency and accountability. J. Pat Brown of MuckRock noticed something else in the BLM's report on its post-Trump plans: an attempt to recraft existing FOIA law to deter records requests.

According to records obtained by the Washington Post, the Bureau of Land Management is recommending new legislation that would limit the number of FOIA requests individuals and agencies could file with the agency, create stricter criteria for fee waivers, as well as increased fees for “search and redaction.”

The BLM says it just doesn't have the budget for handling FOIA requests at the speed it used to. But that's obviously a huge misrepresentation of the facts. The BLM spent 0.2% of its $1.3 billion annual budget handling records requests, which is hardly an onerous amount. This is nothing more than an attempt to bypass its accountability to the public under the guise of federal agency belt-tightening. It claims answering requests "diverts resources" and hampers "decision-making processes," as though an integral part of government accountability were nothing more than a timesinking pain in the ass.

Capping requests from any entity or group is going to harm journalists and the downstream beneficiaries (the general public) of their reporting. This hard cap will probably affect corporations the most, as J. Pat Brown points out, but it's not as though the damage will be limited to well-funded participants in the FOIA process.

Federal agencies were never friendly to FOIA requesters under President Obama. But under Trump, they've become downright hostile. Granted, agencies like the DHS, FBI, and CIA were already openly hostile, but with Trump's revamp of multiple agencies, they've been joined by more generally-docile entities like the BLM and EPA. The more things are disrupted in DC, the more likely it is that federal agencies will circle the wagons. And it will be the taxpayers who are locked out, but still expected to foot the bill for antagonistic policies aimed at them.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Mar 2018 @ 7:48pm

    This land is my land,
    this land is your land
    ....
    Hey wait a sec - wth?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 1 Mar 2018 @ 8:46pm

    Anyone targeting the Bureau because they can't tell BLM apart from BLM?
    Like those idiots that hacked the webpage for NASA instead of the NSA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Mar 2018 @ 10:03pm

    Here's an idea: Link an agency's budget appropriation to its FOIA record. Prompt and accurate responses are good, delayed responses are neutral at best, and no response or an inappropriately denied response counts negatively.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Mar 2018 @ 10:11pm

    The Bureau Of Land Management has historically been the least restrictive of all the federal "landlord" agencies, basically following a more "hands off" policy, whether by accident or intent, that allowed recreational users to do just about any non-commercial activity they wanted, anywhere and anytime. This "Wild West" environment changed rapidly during the Bush II era. Watersheds were fenced off, and restrictions on shooting and hunting non-game animals came about, as was the use of off-road vehicles. Small ranchers were also feeling the weight of increasing regulations.

    Many of the new restrictions most noticeable to recreational users occurred during the Bush era, which would seem to contradict the widespread perception that only Democratic administrations are in any way pro-environmentalist. However, the logging and mining interests do indeed seem to have substantially more claws in the Republican politicians, so while recreational users were under increasing restrictions, large commercial interests were enjoying less restrictions. Not really surprising.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 2 Mar 2018 @ 5:55am

      Re:

      Call me cynical but I can't see recreational users suddenly regaining their former freedoms on federal lands.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2018 @ 9:04am

        Re: Re:

        That's because the rationale for the existence of "public" lands has changed. Originally it was for public recreation, but these days much of it is blocked off to public access in order to create wildlife sanctuaries completely devoid of humans (except federal employees of course).

        Of course, the "freedoms" of recreational users is open to debate. I want the freedom to hike without having to dodge shooting ranges, constantly step in horse manure, hear the roar of off-road vehicles, or get clipped from behind by silent bicycle riders. Dogs are another issue, both leashed and unleashed.

        No matter how public land is managed, they will never please everyone.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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