You have to read this final report just issued by the Interior Department to appreciate the blatant disregard for the West's air quality demonstrated by the Bush Administration in its final weeks. First, some background. Late last year, I wrote a piece for High Country News that revealed the blistering critiques EPA's Rocky Mountain office had sent to Utah BLM for its shoddy (and in many cases, non-existent) air quality analysis of gas drilling projects on federal lands. In essence, the BLM's standard practice during the Bush Administration was to approve individual gas projects that numbered hundreds or thousands of wells without looking at the cumulative impact to air quality. What made this especially egregious was the slate of huge drilling projects approved in the waning months of the Administration, which I wrote about here for Mother Jones magazine. To many, the BLM's controversial lease auction in Utah around Christmas time (later voided by Interior Secretary Salazar) served as a cruel coda to eight years of untrammeled energy development of western lands. As I also reported for Mother Jones, one distressed BLM manager in Utah unloaded all his pent-up frustration:
What can I say that has not already been said? Just more of the same from a Department of the Interior that has no sense of ethics and no moral compass. It is like we are playing in some reality game show where deceit is just part of the game.
And that's exactly how it was played right up to Bush's final days in office. The Interior report released yesterday is largely a rebuke to Utah BLM for the way it circumvented the concerns and advisory role of other federal agencies, such as the National Park Service and EPA, during the pre-auction review phase of those final leases. Specifically, the Interior report also documents how the Bush Administration tried to ensure that those mounting concerns about air quality could not be acted on even after Bush's term ended:
On January 15, 2009, a few days before leaving office, Bush Administration appointees representing BLM and the United States Forest Service executed a Memorandum of Understanding which asserted that quantitative air quality analysis would not be "appropriate" when making oil and gas planning decisions, or when undertaking "low-level energy development activity."
How convenenient. And sleazy.