The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Energy 202: Interior agency gives employees "vision cards" depicting oil rigs

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with Paulina Firozi


The Bureau of Land Management is directed by law to open the 245 million acres of public land in its care to many uses, like grazing and mineral extraction, in addition to recreation and conservation.

But it is up to each new administration to decide which parts of the BLM's "multiple use" mission to emphasize to the public. Recently, the Trump team sent out a clear signal of its priorities.

The bureau has begun distributing an unusual new accessory for some of its employees to wear: A card with an image of an oil rig on one side and cattle ranching on the other.

The "vision cards," as the bureau refers to them, reflect the office's renewed focus on energy and agricultural development on public lands under President Trump. Under the Obama administration, the BLM promoted recreation and conservation on public lands, but this imagery has receded from its official messaging over the past year. Juliet Eilperin and I first reported on the cards Thursday.

The words on the cards, in addition to the images, are telltale too, using words like "customers" and "stakeholders." On the side with two men riding horses with herding dogs and cattle in the background, the bureau says its goal is to “improve accountability to our stakeholders, and deliver better service to our customers.”

In an email Thursday, bureau spokeswoman Michelle Barret said “employees have been given vision cards, which the BLM has had off and on over the years.” Wearing the cards, Barret said, is voluntary.

Last year, then-acting director Mike Nedd commissioned artwork that would highlight oil and natural gas drilling, mining and grazing on public lands, according to an Interior official who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. Neil Kornze, the bureau’s director from 2014 to 2017, had put up posters in the hallways at Interior’s main headquarters to celebrate national monuments on bureau land. Several of those posters have been removed and replaced with the images Nedd ordered.

The advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) obtained images of the cards from bureau employees and provided them to The Washington Post, which independently confirmed their distribution.

“These mandatory vision cards are both hokey and disempowering, as they are designed to reduce public servants to walking talking points,” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said in a statement.

While the bureau said wearing the cards was not mandatory, some employees said they felt pressured to do so. The manager of at least one office outside Washington gave a “directive” to its workers to wear the cards, according to a bureau employee who also spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity to avoid reprisal.

Barret, the bureau spokeswoman, stressed that “no order has been given by the Washington office that employees have to wear these.” If managers or supervisors are telling employees that they must wear these, she continued, “they are mistaken.”

Either way, the cards appear to fit with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s goal of improving the bureau’s image out West, where the agency has a reputation of unduly limiting access and development on publicly owned land.

“When you see a BLM truck, the first thing that I would like the public to think about is land management,” Zinke told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during a budget hearing Tuesday. “When you see a BLM light go on behind you, I would like the public to think about maybe there’s a lost kid out there [and] not get a ticket on a county road.”

“It’s about public trust,” Zinke said, adding that “heavy-handedness has led to a breach of trust, especially out West.”


— Ummm, oops? Zinke got in hot water on the Hill yesterday for responding to a question about preserving Japanese-American internment sites during WWII on Hawaii. He responded to a question from Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), whose grandparents were interned at the sites, with an afternoon Japanese-language greeting of "Oh, konnichiwa." "I think it’s still ‘ohayo gozaimasu,' but that's ok,"  Hanabusa replied, referring to the greeting for morning. 

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) criticized Zinke for “flippant & juvenile” remarks:

  • More on doors: Zinke also said at the hearing his department has slashed the bill for the pricey historical doors being replaced in his office. The Associated Press reported last week that a work order had been placed for the department for nearly $139,000 for three sets of double doors, but Zinke told the House Natural Resources Committee “we got it down to $75,000.” He added: “It was 139 -- I was reading the article, too, how could doors be $139,000? So I asked the question." (A spokesman for the department told CNN “we are still negotiating down the cost and don’t yet have a final contract.”)
  • Monumental questions: "I know you’re a Navy SEAL and math might be difficult, but give me a rough number here," Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) told Zinke when the interior secretary struggled to recall a figure related to Trump's decision to shrink national monuments in Utah. At the end of the hearing, Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said: "I apologize from the committee for anything that may have been offensive that was said in this committee." Zinke responded: “Apology accepted."

— Energy Secretary Rick Perry was on the Hill, too:

  • Perry defended the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to his department, saying that any changes did not mean the programs were unimportant. “Just because a line item was reduced didn’t necessarily mean that that particular line had fallen out of favor,” Perry said before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. “We’ve had some successes, and we ought to be celebrating those successes.” Perry added the department is “re-prioritizing where these dollars need to go, what’s the best return on investment."
  • Perry reiterated he was not interested in leaving his role as energy secretary to lead the Veteran Affairs Department: "I’ve got the perfect job," he told CNN before the hearing. "I’m a happy man." Indeed, Fox News personality Pete Hegseth is a leading candidate under consideration for VA job, The Post’s Lisa Rein reported Thursday.

— Russia behind energy hacks, Trump administration says: The Trump administration on Thursday accused Russia of a hacking operation targeting the energy grid in the United States, as well as other infrastructure. The announcement came as the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Russian government hackers and spy agencies for interfering with the 2016 presidential election and for a cyberattack against Ukraine and other countries. United States officials warned that Russians had been behind the attempts to compromise critical energy, water, aviation and manufacturing industries since at least March 2016, per The Post's Ellen Nakashima.

— Trophy hunters fill wildlife protection board: A new wildlife conservation council created by the Interior Department is filled with trophy hunters, including some with direct ties to President Trump’s family. The International Wildlife Conservation Council is tasked with helping establish federal rules for importing lion, rhino and elephant heads and hides. The Associated Press reports a review of the “backgrounds and social media posts of the 16 board members appointed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke indicates they will agree with his position that the best way to protect critically threatened or endangered species is by encouraging wealthy Americans to shoot some of them.”

— "Climate change" scrubbed, this time from FEMA: The Federal Emergency Management Agency removed the words “climate change” from its strategic plan for 2018 to 2022. “It replaces a version issued under former President Barack Obama that repeatedly cited the challenges caused by a changing climate, and the need for FEMA to incorporate those risks into its long-term plans,” Bloomberg reports. “By contrast, the new document doesn’t mention climate, global warming, sea-level rise, extreme weather, or any other terminology associated with scientific predictions of rising surface temperatures and their effects.”

— A climate agenda marches on: United States officials, including State Department representatives and government scientists, have remained active participants in global efforts to combat climate change, despite Trump’s rhetoric. “We really don’t detect any change with the Americans,” Aleksi Härkönen of Finland, who chairs the eight-nation Arctic Council’s key group of senior officials, told the Associated Press.

— “Do-nothing caucus:” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) criticized the House Climate Solutions Caucus as the “do-nothing caucus” during an event on Wednesday. “At some point, they really need to do something,” Whitehouse said at a forum sponsored by the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) in Washington. “Resolutions are nice, but this is an actual, physical problem in the chemistry and atmospheric science of our planet. And resolutions don’t affect any of that.” The caucus has been criticized by some liberals for taking in members who voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and who even have pushed for the elimination of the EPA.


— “False spring:” March could end up colder than February for the second straight year. The Post's Jason Samenow notes that last year was the eighth time since 1872 that there was a colder March than February in Washington. Which means on average, it usually happens once in every 18 years.


— Solar boom even under Trump: Even under an administration more focused on fossil fuels than renewables, the solar industry in the United States had its second-best year on record for installations in 2017. According to analysis from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association, utilities, individuals and businesses installed 10.6 billion watts of solar photovoltaic capacity last year, The Post’s Chris Mooney reports. That’s compared with the record 15.1 billion watts installed in 2016. Last year’s numbers are significant because “virtually all of the solar industry’s major growth occurred during President Barack Obama’s two terms in office,” Mooney writes.

— And here are some good longreads for your weekend:

  • How global warming affects the world's poor: Amid a new normal of extreme weather changes and droughts, people in Kenya "long hounded by poverty and strife has found itself on the frontline of a new crisis: climate change,” Somini Sengupta writes for the New York Times. “The most recent drought has prompted some herders to plunder the livestock of rival communities or sneak into nature reserves to graze their hungry droves. Water has become so scarce in this vast county — known as Turkana, in northwestern Kenya — that fetching it, which is women’s work, means walking an average of almost seven miles every day.”
  • When bitcoin takes over: Bitcoin mining uses an incredible amount of electricity, "and thanks to five hydroelectric dams that straddle this stretch of the river, about three hours east of Seattle, miners could buy that power more cheaply here than anywhere else in the nation,” Paul Roberts writes for Politico Magazine. “Long before locals had even heard the words ‘cryptocurrency’ or ‘blockchain,’ [Lauren Miehe] and his peers realized that this semi-arid agricultural region known as the Mid-Columbia Basin was the best place to mine bitcoin in America—and maybe the world.”

Coming Up

  • Kaiser Family Foundation holds an event on the status of recovery in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricanes Irma and Maria on March 19. 
President Trump on March 15 said the U.S. is “looking at” sending astronauts to Mars and is “way ahead of schedule.” (Video: Reuters)

— “We’re looking at Mars:” Trump said on Thursday the administration is looking to “top” the Kennedy administration by sending astronauts to Mars. “We’re looking at Mars, by the way,” the president told lawmakers. “We’re going to get there. It’s moving along pretty good. A lot of things have happened having to do with that subject. Way ahead of schedule.”