It is a tale of two photographs, one light and airy, the other kind of, well, dark.
On Wednesday, the feature photograph on the Bureau of Land Management’s homepage was an idyllic shot of what appears to be a sunrise over pretty green bluff, witnessed by a pair of backpackers.
But seemingly overnight, there was a noticeable change. Gone were the boy and man from the wild land that the BLM controls, and in its place was coal. A great wall of carbon literally blacked out the old sunny view.
A BLM spokeswoman, Kristen Lenhardt, wrote in an email Friday that the change is part of a campaign to showcase the different uses of the nation’s vast public lands, with pictures rotating at the end of every work week. It’s part of the agency’s “transition to a new website design,” the statement said. Still, the shot of a tiny-looking man next to a mountain of coal is an interesting first choice, and a stark contrast to the photo it replaced.
The banner photo also appears to be a photo that the Peabody Energy, a major coal mining operation, used for a report last year. The company is bankrupt, and recently filed papers in the hopes of emerging out of it.
The photo speaks volumes about the way the Trump administration is prioritizing the land. The BLM, under the Interior Department, controls more than half a billion acres, including national monuments and wilderness areas that humans visit and where a variety of animals roam, but the feature image is all about coal.
It follows President Trump’s campaign promise to bring back the coal industry and his recent executive order lifting a moratorium on new coal leases. It also follows the issuance of a lease to mine 56 million tons of coal in Utah. “The United States has more coal than any other nation on Earth,” said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, “and we are lucky to be at a time in our history that we have the technology available to responsibly mine coal and return our land to equal or better quality after.”
The United States also has an abundance of natural gas, which is surging in use as power plants that once generated electricity by burning coal switch to gas. The Energy Department spells out coal’s troubles clearly in a report released in January. “The amount of coal in the national energy generation mix (both Fuels and Electricity Generation) has declined by 53 percent since 2006.” Meanwhile, electricity generation from natural gas has increased 33 percent.
At the signing ceremony for his executive order, Trump showed that he is a champion of the development of fossil fuels, even when one product is bashing the other. “We will unlock job-producing natural gas, oil and shale energy. We will produce American coal to power American industry,” he said.
It was a puzzling ad lib, considering how nonpartisan industry analysts view the future of coal. “Too many companies are still mining too much coal for too few customers,” which is a fundamental problem for the industry, said the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
As for Trump’s claim that mining more coal will employ more workers, the IEEFA isn’t so sure. Job losses will continue, “related in part to the coal industry’s long-term business model of producing more coal with fewer workers,” it said.
Although the Internet Archive showed that the original picture was still in circulation Wednesday, and that the new picture was displayed the following day, as reported by NBC, the Huffington Post, Mashable and others — Lenhardt said the change was made last Friday.
Today, she said, there will be a new photo. As of right now, the page looks like this.