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Jul 14, 2018

Behind Trump’s energy dominance

Co-produced with PRX Logo

President Donald Trump has pledged allegiance to what he calls America’s “energy dominance.” This is good news for the oil and gas industry. We examine what this means for villagers in Alaska coping with climate change, Native American artifacts in Utah and birds flying over the U.S.  

To find out, we talk with a former Interior Department official who became a whistleblower after helping relocate Alaska Native villages threatened by rising temperatures. We also examine the energy industry’s influence on the Trump administration and visit public lands in southeastern Utah, where parcels leased for oil and gas exploration contain sensitive Native American archeological sites.

Dig Deeper

  • Read: 100-year-old environmental law at center of lawsuit against Trump administration
  • Read: These pits are deadly to birds. But feds won’t penalize oil companies
  • Read: Trump dreams about a new energy boom. Oil leases could cover this mountain valley
  • Read: Countless archaeological sites at risk in Trump oil and gas auction
  • Read: Oops! Federal officials divulge secret info about Native American artifacts

Credits

Lead producer: Amy Walters. Editors: Deborah George, Taki Telonidis and Marla Cone. Reporters: Zack Colman, Elizabeth Shogren and Jennifer Oldham.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Reveal is a co-production of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.
  Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 - 00:18:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting, and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.
I want to start by introducing you to someone.
Joel Clement: My name is Joel Clement. I was a former policy director in the Department of the Interior.
Al Letson: You've had a interesting couple years, huh?
Joel Clement: Yes, it has been interesting, yeah, for sure.
Al Letson: Joel is a whistleblower. He went from saving American refugees of climate change, to becoming a bit of a refugee himself. A Trump refugee. First, we should tell you what Joel was doing at the Interior Department before President Trump took office.
Joel Clement: I was focusing my work on the Alaskan Native villages along the Arctic Coast, facing the direct impacts of climate change.
Al Letson: I cannot imagine how cold that must have been. I've been to Fairbanks and Juno, and I'm from Florida. I thought I was going to die every second I was there.
Joel Clement: You know, I'll tell you, it's not as cold as it should be. We saw open water in February.
Al Letson: While there's a lot of controversy over climate change, scientists agree, the polar ice cap is melting. Last winter was the warmest yet.
Speaker 1: In Alaska, warmer temperatures are melting the permafrost. Villages are literally disappearing.

 

Speaker 2: a congressional audit and the Army Corps of Engineers have identified these four Alaskan villages in desperate need of immediate relocation.

 

Speaker 3: The Alaska village in danger of being swallowed by the sea, and what the people who live there are doing to preserve their way of life.

 

Joel Clement: There's a slow moving disaster taking place up there right now because these villages along the arctic, they're very narrow islands and peninsulas that have been locked in place by permafrost and protected by the sea ice, particularly in the fall when the storm season comes, and that's no longer the case and those storm surges and waves are chewing away at this melting permafrost, so these villages are right on the brink of being wiped right off the map.

 

Al Letson: Joel's job was to figure out how to save them, or even relocate those villages. His work got the attention of the White House under President Obama.

 

President Obama: Reduced sea levels leaves villages unprotected from floods and storm surges. Some are in imminent danger. Some will have to relocate entirely.

 

Al Letson: Obama was the first president to visit the arctic, and he mentioned your work.

 

Joel Clement: That's right. There's a lot of focus on the arctic. Once you have a sense of what's going on up there, you realize that it's not just ecosystems that are in peril, that there are Americans that could become refugees in their own country any year now if we don't take action.

 

Al Letson: Obama asked Congress to budget 400 million dollars to help those communities, and move them if necessary.

 

President Trump: President Obama has done everything he can to get in the way of American energy.

 

Al Letson: Instead, Trump was elected with a very different approach to energy and the environment.

 

President Trump: My administration will seek not only the American energy independence that we've been looking for so long, but American energy dominance.

 

Al Letson: Joel, it sounds like Trump is saying that it's not enough to just produce more energy. He wants the US to produce the most energy, so we don't have to be dependent on the Middle East and Russia. A pro-business message for sure, but not much of an environmental one. That must have been a whiplash for everyone you were working with.

 

Joel Clement: Yeah, of course everyone's walking on pins and needles, but frankly because I was working on addressing the impacts of climate change that we were seeing right in front of us and there were people in danger and so on, I thought despite the rhetoric the new administration would still allow that work to continue. They may not celebrate it, but they would allow it to continue.

 

Al Letson: What happened?

 

Joel Clement: Then I got a call from a friend who said, "Hey, I just was reassigned, you may want to check your email." I did, and I received an email at about 8:00 at night. Sure enough, I had been unceremoniously and without notice reassigned from my job as the top climate policy advisor and the director of the policy on this to an unspecified role in the office of Natural Resources Revenue. That's the office that collects and disperses royalty income from the oil and gas and mining industries. There was a very non subtle jab at my profession.

 

Al Letson: They basically assigned you to work with your nemesis.

 

Joel Clement: Well, yeah, I think the Office of Natural Resources Revenue does important work because they're dispersing those monies to tribes in some cases, but yes, I was being pushed away from advising on what I considered to be the most important issue facing the federal government right now, into a job facilitating and working closely with the industry that's causing the problem. This was essentially a purge. I was one of dozens of executives that were reassigned that night. While every administration comes in and does a few of those for various reasons, no agency in any administration has ever come in and reassigned dozens of people without telling them or talking with them first.

 

The office was as surprised as I was that I had been reassigned there, so I wasn't even on the org chart, and they had to bend over backwards to try and figure out how to work me into an auditing operation. My background of course is not auditing.

 

Al Letson: I was about to say, are you an accountant?

 

Joel Clement: No. No, I mean, I used to balance my checkbook when we did that sort of thing. Of course it's all on line now, but.

 

Al Letson: I couldn't do it then and I can't do it now. If I got moved into Reveal's accounting, we'd be in trouble. You get reassigned, what happens then?

 

Joel Clement: I blew the whistle. I took the unusual step of also going public about it with an op ed in the Washington Post.

 

Al Letson: I have the op ed here. Let me just read a little bit of this.

 

"I believe I was retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaskan native communities." Then you write this pretty damning sentence. "It is clear to me that the administration was so uncomfortable with this work and my disclosures, that I was reassigned."

 

I mean, it feels like you're poking the bull.

 

Joel Clement: Well, I was, but I fully expected to be fired right away, frankly, but I guess they had a good lawyer too, and they realized that would be foolhardy and as a whistleblower I do, or did, enjoy some protections. I actually, I took some time off and the day I came back, I got to the front door at Interior, at DOI, and I hesitated and I texted my attorney and I said, "Do I have to do this? Do I have to go in here?"

 

Al Letson: How did it feel to walk into that new office?

 

Joel Clement: I opened the door and I walked in and I couldn't have been more welcomed by staff, and it was extremely gratifying. Now, I don't want to get them in trouble by suggesting they were sympathizers, but they were just very professional and welcoming. They pointed out the stack of fan mail on my new desk there from people around the country, both civil servants and otherwise, that had been in my absence had been writing in to the agency saying, "Hey, great, thank you very much. We needed someone to speak out. Thanks for being our voice."

 

Al Letson: Now, a little known climate change policy guy, a bureaucrat, starts making news.

 

Speaker 4: Until very recently, Joel Clement had been working as a senior policy official in the Department of the Interior.

 

Speaker 5: Mr. Clement, welcome to the program ...

 

Al Letson: Now, you're kind of at this crucial juncture of do you stay? Do you go? What do you do at what would be your final days working against climate change inside the federal government. What did you do?

 

Joel Clement: I realized that I was going to lose my voice if I remained tucked away in this office, and so I wanted to keep my voice, I wanted to keep talking about this stuff. My voice at that point was more valuable to me than the income I had from that job, so it was time to get out so that I could be more vocal and not be tucked away in this office.

 

Al Letson: On October 4, 2017, you write another letter. A resignation letter. This one to Secretary Ryan Zinke, and you say something that a lot of people would think is obvious. "Climate change is real, and it's dangerous." But then you take it a step further by accusing Secretary Zinke and President Trump of being shackled to energy interests, and you say they can not be trusted with our nation's resources in the end. Now, that's pretty powerful stuff, and you're encouraging others to come forward and speak out as well, right?

 

Joel Clement: Yeah, that's right. I understand that a lot of people can't do it. I think that there are lots of different and creative ways that civil servants can have an impact right now. We're seeing some of that. In fact, the Office of Special Counsel reports that they have had a huge uptick in whistleblower complaints. It's just that they're not public like mine was, and they're speaking up when something's inappropriate, and unfortunately, this group of political appointees is ignoring the civil service in unprecedented ways, and because of that, they're screwing up a lot, and they're winding up in court a lot. That's the way it goes, right? That's why we have the judicial branch of the government.

 

We'll see where they prevail. In some cases, of course, they are making some unprecedented moves that might stick for a while.

 

Al Letson: That is what today's show is all about. Those unprecedented moves, giving oil and gas companies land and leeway to drill, despite the consequences for greenhouse gasses, public land, or wild life. We'll hear more from Joel Clement, the former Policy Director at the Interior Department later in the show, but first, we're going to take you around the country, from Washington, D.C., to public lands in Utah, and oil field waste pits in Wyoming.

 

Gary Moad: Here a bird thinks it's just landing in a pool of water to rest and feed and drink and next thing you know it's trapped and you know it had a miserable death.

 

Al Letson: That's next on Reveal. From the Center for Investigative Reporting, and PRX.

 

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. Back in May, 2016, when Donald Trump was just a candidate, oil executives gathered in a ballroom in Bismark, North Dakota. Trump jabbed at Hilary Clinton and President Obama, and then redirected his fury at birds. Blaming them and the way the federal government was protecting them, for strangling oil industry profits.

 

President Trump: Government misconduct goes on and on. The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against seven North Dakota oil companies for the death of 28 birds.

 

Al Letson: The oil executives in the room loved it. Trump was talking about the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a regulatory irritant for them. It was signed into law a hundred years ago this month, and it makes it illegal to kill birds or destroy their nest and eggs without a permit. Once Trump was in the White House, his Interior Department defanged it, weakening the government's authority to enforce the act.

 

You see, millions of birds are killed each year by things like wind turbines, power lines or waste water pits, but now the government is no longer going after companies responsible for those deaths.

 

Cornell University is home to the world's largest collection of bird calls. It's ornithology lab is dedicated to conserving birds. We talked to Amanda Roadwall, a professor and researcher there. She's worried Trump's change will reduce the number of birds, those already on the road to extinction, and common ones too. Like this Western Meadowlark, the state bird of six western states. She's worried for people, too.

 

Amanda Roadwall: Birds are sentinels of environmental conditions. Right? They're the canaries in the coal mines, as many people would say. If we're allowing environments that are creating unhealthy conditions for birds, that also means we're creating unhealthy environments that have the potential to impact us.

 

Al Letson: We asked report Elizabeth Shogrun to find out what's at stake. She starts at an oil operation in Northern Wyoming.

 

Elizabeth S.: It's a blustery spring day. The land here is flat, but we can see mountains in the distance. Migrating song birds are fleeting through the sagebrush near by. Tumbleweeds are blowing through what seems like a defunct oil production site.

 

Gary Moad: This thing could have been abandoned for a long time.

 

Elizabeth S.: Gary Moad snoops around like a detective. Gary's retired now, but during his whole career as a law enforcement officer for the US Fish and Wildlife service, this would have been a crime scene. Near the rusted, motionless pump jack, he crouches and points to a long black feather, tangled up with weeds in a mat of thick oil, the color of milk chocolate.

 

Gary Moad: Oiled bird feather right here. Probably from a, boy it's tough, but I'm going to go with a goose. Just don't want to pick it up, because I'm no longer a federal agent. Even though it looks like this well's been taken out of production waiting for prices to come back up, these pump jacks leak and that's where that bird got into it.

 

Elizabeth S.: Then he spots a single egg sitting in a gooey puddle near by. In his days as an agent, Gary would have collected these bits of oily evidence. Killing birds or destroying their nests or eggs, even inadvertently, was a crime. A legal opinion from the Trump administration last December changed that.

 

Gary Moad: Right here on the south side of the pit, that's the surface sludge.

 

Elizabeth S.: He's standing in the middle of several pits the size of swimming pools. This is where the oil company's wastewater goes. You wouldn't want to swim in one. They're often polluted with oil and toxic chemicals, but Gary says decades of policing these pits taught him birds don't know any better.

 

Gary Moad: Here a bird thinks it's just landing in a pool of water to rest and feed and drink, and the next thing you know it's trapped and you know it had a miserable death.

 

Elizabeth S.: Pits are the big bird killers at oil production sites.

 

Gary Moad: Thick oil sludge. It's heavy. When it gets on them they try to preen it off of them so they get it into their gullet and once it's in their system they're not going to make it.

 

Elizabeth S.: Did you ever find live birds?

 

Gary Moad: Oh, quite often I found live birds. A lot of ducks, a lot of song birds. When you find them and they're still alive, they're in really bad shape and you have to euthanize them because you're just not going to rehab them. It was just gut wrenching. You shouldn't have to do that.

 

Elizabeth S.: He broke their necks. It's what he had to do. From 1992 to 2005, Gary and other agents collected more than 2000 birds at pits. Forensic analysis showed they represented 172 different species, including many rare birds. Originally, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act targeted hunters, trappers, and poachers, but in the 1970s the federal government started using it to crack down on industries that kill lots of birds unintentionally.

 

Millions of birds were saved, but by issuing a new legal opinion in December, the Trump administration stopped using the act that way, and halted the fines and prosecutions. This was a triumph of industry's influence. I analyzed public lobbying records from 2017 that specifically mentioned the migratory bird treaty act. They show oil and gas industry groups paid lobbyists nearly a half million dollars to influence federal agencies and congress. Other kinds of energy companies spent heavily to lobby on this, too. Industry groups also sent emails to Trump administration appointees at the Interior Department. One of those emails lead me to Kathleen Sagama, in her corner office on the 27th floor of a skyscraper in downtown Denver.

 

Kathleen S.: It's not a particularly clean day, but it's not bad. It's a good view.

 

Elizabeth S.: Kathleen represents oil and gas producers as the President of the Western Energy Alliance. She downplays the impact of her industry's lobbying on Trump appointees.

 

Kathleen S.: They did not need much prodding from us. Actually, they were going down that path before we even talked to them.

 

Elizabeth S.: Last August, Kathleen sent a long wish list of environmental policies industry wanted the Trump administration to weaken. Among them was the way the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was interpreted.

 

Kathleen S.: We were the ones who were being targeted.

 

Elizabeth S.: She points out that the federal government ranks cats as the largest bird killers. Collisions with buildings come next.

 

Kathleen S.: Do we prosecute those who live in buildings who happen to have a bird smash into their window? No, those are inadvertent bird deaths, just like sometimes, birds get into oil and gas equipment and deaths result as well.

 

Elizabeth S.: For decades the federal government had argued that birds dying in oil pits was different than birds smashing into windows, because companies could take steps to protect birds. Some companies disputed this in court, and in December Trump's top lawyer at Interior sided with them. He wrote a legal opinion saying it's only illegal to kill migratory birds if it's done on purpose. The administration later sent out a memo with examples.

 

If you power wash an offshore oil platform to get rid of a bird's nest, that's illegal. But, if you're power washing an offshore oil platform, and a bird's nest happens to get washed away, that's not illegal.

 

Kathleen S.: It's a reasonable way to continue to protect birds while moving forward with energy development.

 

Elizabeth S.: With the new interpretation of the migratory bird treaty act, there will be no more fines and there will be no more prosecutions of industry when birds die at oil operations. Do you think that more birds will die as a result of that?

 

  Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 - 00:18:04]
  Section 2 of 3          [00:18:00 - 00:36:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

 

Elizabeth S.: Do you think that more birds will die as a result of that?

 

Kathleen S.: I don't think more birds will die because companies don't need a rule or prosecution hanging over their head to do the right thing. We want to protect birds. Nobody wants to see a dead bird. I mean everybody loves birds.

 

Elizabeth S.: I tell Kathleen then, in a couple of days, I'm going to go flying over oil pits with former agents of the Fish and Wildlife Service. She insists there will be nothing to see.

 

Kathleen S.: We've gotten away from open pits. Most modern operations do not use open pits. That, again, has taken away a source of potential bird deaths and will continue to operate in that manner.

 

Gary Moad: We're going to go ahead and get started out. Clear ahead. Clear prop.

 

Elizabeth S.: But many companies still do use pits. Remember Gary [Moad 00:18:56], the former US Fish and Wildlife Service agent? He takes me up in a Cessna to see if pits in northern Wyoming still threaten birds. We fly over a rural landscape. Looking out the window, I see an oil company site with several large pits. We're wearing headsets to talk over the engine's roar.

 

Gary Moad: Well they've got nets stretched across the pits to keep the birds out. These guys know the rules of the game.

 

Elizabeth S.: Then a pungent odor fills the tiny cockpit.

 

Gary Moad: You can smell the oil, huh?

 

Mark Webb: Yes. What is the gas? Hydrogen sulfide?

 

Elizabeth S.: That's Mark [Webb 00:19:33], our pilot. He's also a former agent and Gary's friend. It smells a little bit like rotten eggs.

 

Mark Webb: Yes. Coming up right here, Liz.

 

Gary Moad: See that right there, Liz? That's a bad pit. Completely full of oil. That's all oil on that first pit. There's no netting there. That's ugly.

 

Elizabeth S.: We fly over clusters of oily pits, one after another. Many have black oil or swirly rainbow sheens visible on the surface.

 

Gary Moad: There's another ugly one. Go ahead and do a 360 right here, Mark.

 

Mark Webb: There's a number of pits right here.

 

Gary Moad: Okay. On the right side of the plane, Liz, is going to be another set of pits. They're discharging into this wetland here. Those are problem pits. You see the sheen? You see the oil? That will kill birds.

 

Elizabeth S.: In the early 1990s, Gary saw pits just like these. He later drove back to one pit he'd spotted from the air. In the sand at the bottom, he saw the bones of what looked like thousands of birds.

 

Gary Moad: To me, the light bulb went off knowing that there were thousands more produced water pits out there. I knew right away that this represented a major threat to migratory birds.

 

Elizabeth S.: That's why he came up with this strategy to get companies to clean wastewater pits. Gary and other agents flew low over oil fields. When they saw oily pits or missing nets, they'd give companies 30 days to clean up and install nets.

 

Gary Moad: At that point if an oil producer failed to clean up their pit and it still had oil on it with dead migratory birds, we would then charge them at $250 a bird. If we pull 10 birds out of there, they'd get a $2500 fine.

 

Elizabeth S.: At first 90% of the pits were oily, but most companies quickly got the message. Agents even tipped off the oil companies in advance. The point was to get them to clean up, not collect fines.

 

Gary Moad: Yeah, we would put the word out that we would be flying, for instance, Wyoming in May.

 

Elizabeth S.: The program started under the Clinton administration and continued through Bush and Obama. It was a great success. The federal government estimates the number of bird deaths in oil pits plunged from two million a year to less than half that. The Environmental Protection Agency gave Gary its top award. Birds deaths may begin rising again now that the Trump administration has stopped prosecuting the oil industry for killing birds this way. This is painful for American birdwatchers whether they're Democrats or Republicans.

 

Lynn Scarlett: Look. Look right here. Right here. Oh, he's just pretty as can be and staying still which is something of a miracle.

 

Elizabeth S.: It's the peak of spring migration, and I'm walking in the woods not far from Washington, DC with Lynn Scarlett. She's a passionate birder who was a top official at the Interior Department under President George W Bush.

 

Lynn Scarlett: Hear the wood thrush? I love the sound of a wood thrush. Sometimes I'll go in the woods and when they're singing, I'll just stand there with my eyes shut and listen. It's so beautiful.

 

Elizabeth S.: I can tell that you love birds.

 

Lynn Scarlett: I do. They're just so unique, so beautiful. 10000 of them in the world, each one different. You start to look at them and you go "Wow, that's ... Gosh."

 

Elizabeth S.: Today, she's intent on finding warblers. They're here only briefly on their way north. Lynn has tucked her khakis into her socks to avoid ticks and convinced me to do the same. She hears melodies in what sound like a cacophony to me. One of Lynn's jobs as Bush's Deputy Interior Secretary was protecting birds and enforcing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. So I ask her what she thinks of Trump's attack?

 

Lynn Scarlett: Oh, for heaven's sakes. Well I mean the act is 100 years old.

 

Elizabeth S.: She and 16 other high-ranking officials from every Republican and Democratic administration back to Nixon were outraged. They objected by writing a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

 

Lynn Scarlett: It was such an abrupt change that's inconsistent with five decades and both parties. I think that caused so many former officials to say this really is off the mark.

 

Elizabeth S.: Zinke never responded, but Lynn hasn't given up. She's now a top executive at the Nature Conservancy, and as a Republican, Lynn has ins with a Trump administration that few environmental leaders have. She even knows the guy who wrote the new legal opinion, Daniel Jorjani. He used to work for her and then for foundations funded by the Koch brothers. They're the fossil fuel billionaires who spend a bunch of their money pressing government to cut regulations. Have you met with Daniel Jorjani or others to talk to them about this?

 

Lynn Scarlett: Yeah, we have, both about this and broader things.

 

Elizabeth S.: Is there anything you heard in these meetings that gives you optimism that this is something that they might change their minds on?

 

Lynn Scarlett: I haven't seen any signal that there are plans to change direction on this.

 

Elizabeth S.: And it's not just birds that will be hurt. The fines companies paid under the act were used to restore habitats. After the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill, BP was fined $100 million because of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. That's a lot of money being spent to beef up coastal wetlands that also protect people from storms and sea level rise.

 

Lynn Scarlett: So nature matters for nature, but it matters for people too. It breaks my heart to see unnecessary diminishing of the focus on nature. I saw unnecessary because we can work in tandem. We can turn on our lights with energy and conserve nature. They are not at odds.

 

Al Letson: That story from Reveal's Elizabeth Shogren. Remember those warblers Lynn Scarlett was so keen to find?

 

Lynn Scarlett: There's some warblery sounding things in here.

 

Al Letson: Her optimism paid off.

 

Lynn Scarlett: Oh, magnolia. Oh, happiness. There's a magnolia warbler. Nice.

 

Al Letson: Elizabeth told me Lynn Scarlett's optimism was a bit shaken. Egged on by industries like big agriculture, energy, and construction, the Trump administration is working to weaken major environmental laws like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and toxic chemical laws. Lynn Scarlett fears they'll be gutted just like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was. Are these birds sounding an alarm about what the Trump administration's trying to do?

 

Zack Colman: I found some emails from headquarters in DC saying "Find some way to show that we are trying to get as much energy out of our federal lands as possible because that's what we got voted into office to do."

 

Al Letson: That's next on Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. We've been talking about how President Trump's policy of energy dominance may mean more birds die, but what does it mean for the environment and climate change in general? We asked Zack Colman, Washington correspondent for E&E News, to help us figure that out. Zack reports on environment and energy around the US. He's been peeking into the Interior Department specifically, and what he sees is pretty shocking. He says the Interior is starting to look a lot like an arm of the energy industry. Hi, Zack.

 

Zack Colman: Hi, Al.

 

Al Letson: Now, you've been looking at all these oil and gas leases auctioned off by the interior department. The government has auctioned federal land off to energy companies for a while now. I mean that's not new, but something important has changed.

 

Zack Colman: The Trump administration, they actually have a new policy where they hold these lease sales every quarter. So here we have the Trump administration putting out a bowl of candy for the oil and gas industry. The federal government puts it on the auction block, and once companies bid on the land, if they win the lease, they have a right to explore it and possibly drill for oil and gas for the next 10 years. There's some good pieces in there. There's chunks with lots of oil and gas to explore. At a certain point though, you're left with the dregs of the candy world, the Good & Plentys, the Mike & Ikes.

 

Al Letson: I don't know, man. I like Mike & Ikes.

 

Zack Colman: I don't know. It's just my preference. I'm more of a chocolate guy, but in the end, they'll also take some of the less desirable stuff just because it's being offered, some for as little as $2 per acre, basically for free.

 

Al Letson: So you actually got out of DC for a few days to the Colorado Rockies to see these places that could be developed.

 

Zack Colman: Exactly. I was able to go up in this little prop plane and fly around them.

 

Dan Stucker: Northport traffic. Sky hawk 401 uniform departing runway 23. Straight out departure.

 

Zack Colman: You can see a lot of the land at risk of being leased. It could mean construction of a road or two or it could mean drilling and pumping out natural gas.

 

Dan Stucker: These are old drilling pans. They've been recovered. A lot of them are still producing.

 

Zack Colman: That's the pilot, Dan Stucker. There were big rectangular pools of wastewater from fracking operations, roads cut into the sides of these green mesas which are like flatter, sloping mountains. Some of these areas had been clearcut of trees, and I was able to check out some mountains that would be included in one of these lease proposals. We're getting right up in these Rockies.

 

Dan Stucker: We're up 10000 feet and they're still 2000 feet above us at the peaks.

 

Zack Colman: This one would allow up to 146 natural gas wells and four wastewater injection sites. In my head, I was trying to plot out the amount of land that would be changed by all these wells. It's hard to conceptualize.

 

Al Letson: I imagine the folks who live around there doing the same math problems in their heads.

 

Zack Colman: It's mixed. There's a lot of people who really respect that this energy development has been an engine for the western economy, for the US economy, but at the same time, these are people who moved out west because they love their land. I talked to a hunter named Mike Drake who is concerned that elk will leave the area.

 

Mike Drake: Quite frankly, most of the people that I've talked to that come up here to hunt come up here to hunt because it's wild land. If you industrialize it, people won't want to come.

 

Al Letson: So Zack, according to your reporting, the Interior is offering more land than the oil and gas companies even want or need.

 

Zack Colman: Again, it's the candy bowl thing. Some of this is not good candy or good land for energy extraction. There's a lot of natural gas right now. Oil prices are not as high as they've been in the past although they're starting to rise again. The point is nobody's going to stop them from leasing the land once it's offered.

 

Al Letson: What have you seen that the Trump administration is doing to work with the energy companies to create this energy dominance?

 

Zack Colman: This administration has focused so much on energy that that's the major difference. There was this report that came out called the Energy Burdens Report. The metric for success was to get energy out of the ground faster. That is in line with the base that supports Donald Trump. It's in line with many of his donors. It's in line with his politics.

 

Al Letson: And your reporting has shown specific examples of this, right, in the Interior Department?

 

Zack Colman: Yeah. Well actually I found some emails from headquarters in DC saying "Find some way to show that we are trying to get as much energy out of our federal lands as possible because that's what we got voted into office to do."

 

Al Letson: This land that they're trying to squeeze all the energy out of, that land belongs to every American too, right?

 

Zack Colman: Right. That does. There are some benefits to extracting energy from this land. Taxpayers get money. Then if energy is actually produced, there's a royalty payment, basically a 12.5% fee on whatever comes out of the ground. The question though is whether taxpayers are getting enough for this.

 

Al Letson: Trump is not going to be president forever. Can this be turned around by a president who, say, is not as friendly to the oil and gas companies and maybe a little more friendly to the environment?

 

Zack Colman: Not for a while. Once they're in, the leases last for 10 years. It's not that hard to renew them after that.

 

Al Letson: So looking ahead, we know that those fossil fuels are adding to climate change.

 

Zack Colman: 20% of our emissions in this country come from federal lands. If we're pushing out all this land to energy companies right now that could be developed decades into the future, this is all happening in the Trump administration without even considering climate change. That's the major difference. They actually rescinded a policy that requires the Interior Department to think about climate change.

 

Al Letson: Zack Colman is the White House correspondent for E&E News. Zack, thanks for coming in.

 

Zack Colman: Thanks for having me.

 

Al Letson: One place the Trump administration is making it easier for energy companies to drill for oil and gas is southeastern Utah. It's a remote corner of the state. Towering red rocks and surprising clusters of green trees pop up along empty two-lane highways. It feels like the middle of nowhere, but for Angelo [inaudible 00:33:27], it's home.

 

Angelo: This is my family's land. It's why I'm taking you here.

 

Al Letson: Angelo's a young guy, half Navajo, half Hopi. He's a filmmaker, and he's getting his PhD in Anthropology. He says his grandmother, Helen [Yellow 00:33:43], raised 12 kids here.

 

Angelo: This place was green and pristine, and you could actually live and sustain yourself here.

 

Al Letson: Oil and gas companies recently bought rights to drill on land here, bringing back memories of what happened years ago. In the 1950s, two companies, [inaudible 00:34:02] and Shell, made agreements with the Navajo tribe and the state of Utah to drill here. Roads and pump jacks like the one Angelo is standing in front of started filling in the landscape. He says this changed his grandma's life forever. Years ago, he made a documentary about it.

 

Angelo: She was a very traditional Navajo woman, and she didn't speak any English.

 

Helen: [Navajo 00:34:24]

 

Al Letson: In the film, Angelo's tiny grandmother clutches his hand as they walk up to the traditional home where she used to live. It's called a hogan. Then they walk up to a pump jack. Angelo remembers what she told him.

 

Angelo: She had to have her words translated, but she basically said this industry came in-

 

Helen: [Navajo 00:34:45].

 

Angelo: ... it poisoned the water, it poisoned the livestock. All the wells and the springs dried up, and it caused division amongst the families.

 

Helen: [Navajo 00:34:57].

 

Al Letson: Eventually, his grandma and her kids left because of the problems. She says she never received any compensation, but in 2004, oil companies were forced to pay a multimillion dollar settlement for dozens of spills on the Navajo Nation. All of this family history with his grandma happened decades ago, but Angelo is worried something similar could happen again. That's because, in March, the Bureau of Land Management leased huge swaths of land in southeastern Utah to oil and gas companies, over 50000 acres in an area known as Paradox Basin. Reporter Jennifer [Oldam 00:35:36] investigates what's at stake as the Trump administration tries to speed up energy development on Utah's public lands.

 

Jennifer: Angelo [inaudible 00:35:46] biggest fear is that drilling for oil and gas here will damage Native American artifacts. For the Navajo and Hopi tribes, these ancient relics, cliff dwellings, and rock art are an important connection to what was left behind by their ancestors hundreds, even thousands of years ago.

 

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(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

 

Jennifer: ... Ancestors hundreds, even thousands of years ago. We're on our way to go visit one of this sites. It's 90 degrees outside, but Angelo's in all black, jeans, button down shirt, sneakers.

 

Zack Colman: Looks like we are getting closer and closer.

 

Jennifer: So, we turn off the main highway onto a dirt road, drive a few more miles and then pull over.

 

Zack Colman: Oh, there it is, look at that. It's beautiful.

 

Jennifer: What we're looking at is a petroglyph, carvings on a wide flat rock. My producer, Lee, and I walk over.

 

Lee: I mean, it's amazing that you just pull over. And, this is just here. Yeah and if you weren't looking for it, you'd just go right on by.

 

Jennifer: The rock art shows people, birds, horses and some sort of covered wagon. The palm sized images are a light tan color, roughly pecked all over the face of a huge, red boulder. We ask Angelo to explain why rock art and ancient walls are so important.

 

Zack Colman: Well, I think, if you reverse the same question for Euro-American perspectives on heritage in history. Like why is that significant? Why is the art on the Sistine Chapel significant? The same thing applies for us. It's important because it's part of our past and in the end, because you are an American citizen and you're part of this country, it's your heritage, too.

 

Jennifer: Conservationists say the leased land has more archeological sites than any other area put up for auction by the BLM ever. This is federal land, so it doesn't technically belong to any tribe, but Native American people have lived in these areas for thousands of years.

 

Zack Colman: My relatives, they come to some of these spots still and they do their prayers and they do their ceremonies and it's just like going to a church. It's going to Temple.

 

Jennifer: Angelo says his people wanna have a say in hat happens here. But, he says the Trump administration isn't listening.

 

Zack Colman: I do feel like there is definitely like fast tracking of natural resource extraction. This administration is very excited and really aggressive about doing any kind of extraction that would be profitable.

 

Jennifer: The energy industry is excited, too.

 

Lee Peacock: I think there's been a resurgence of hope.

 

Jennifer: This is Lee Peacock, he's the head of the Utah Petroleum Association and he says there are still significant regulations.

 

Lee Peacock: But, the more open policy to responsible development, obviously, has been welcome.

 

Jennifer: 24 companies from all over the country took part in the March sale. It was wildly successful. The BLM leased 100% of the land it made available. Parcels went for anywhere between $2 and $93 an acre. If that sounds cheap, that's because it is.

 

Lee Peacock: Quite honestly, the leasing areas, is in a big scheme of the oil and gas industry relatively inexpensive. It's when you actually start to develop areas that the big costs come in. You know, that's the business we're in is trying to find oil and make it work both economically and responsibly.

 

Jennifer: But, some people feel like development should not happen here at all. People like Jim Allison, an archaeologist at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He spends his days studying silent, dusty and shattered artifacts, piecing together their story.

 

Jim Allison: Basically, these boxes are just full of corn.

 

Jennifer: Jim stores the corn in Ziploc bags next to boxes fill with hair, leather and scraps of pottery. The corn and a lot of the ceramics are from one site.

 

Jim Allison: It's a super interesting site. Mostly, it's this early village, probably the earliest village in the area.

 

Jennifer: Archeologist have been puzzling over this place for nearly 100 years.

 

Jim Allison: Think of it as an apartment style construction. So, just rooms, rows and rows of rooms.

 

Jennifer: The room are laid out kind of in the shape of a capital E and scattered around there are circular spiritual structures, called Kivas. The layout is amazing. But, why is this all so important? Because, Jim says, it says a lot about how people survived in Utah's harsh desert.

 

Jim Allison: Archeology is all about context. The media portrays it as all about objects and finding cool things, but that's not really what it's about. It's about putting those things in context and piecing those contexts together.

 

Jennifer: And, this is where the problem with oil and gas development comes in.

 

Jim Allison: If you destroy the site, you can't, with a bulldozer, putting an oil pad, you can't do any of this.

 

Jennifer: If you destroy some of the context, you could lose the entire story and there's so much out here that still hasn't been studied. Last year, around 1,000 new cultural sites were found on BLM land in Utah.

 

A few years ago, the federal government shared Jim's concerns. Under the Obama administration, there was talk about leasing land for oil and gas development on the same ridge as the village. But, the BLM decided to leave it alone so it could be studied further. Now, under the Trump administration, those parcels have been leased. I called up the BLM for a response to concerns about new leases.

 

Nate Thomas: Hello, this is Nate.

 

Jennifer: And talked to Nate Thomas. He's been with the BLM in Utah for almost gotten years and is now the head archeologist there.

 

Nate Thomas: The last two lease sales have been the most thorough cultural resource analysis that probably the agency has done, in my opinion. There are a lot of cultural resources in that area and there are a lot of sites, but we're very cognizant of looking at indirect effects and cumulative effects of what's occurring. Each of these leases, I think except for one, is already touching an existing lease. So, much of this area has already been leased for oil and gas.

 

Jennifer: Still, in reviewing hundreds of pages of documents for this story, I was struck by how much science was ignored. For example, a computer model showed it's very likely there are undiscovered artifacts within the leases. And, the National Park Service wrote that oil and gas drilling could cause air and light pollution in nearby national monuments. People come this part of Utah for the quiet and to stargaze. The park service said development could spoil that experience, even so, the lease sale moved ahead. Nate did admit, there will definitely be more artifacts discovered in the areas that were leased. But ...

 

Nate Thomas: We also feel that you can develop without having an adverse effect, which is shown to be true because we do have developments in the adjacent lease parcels that have not had adverse effects.

 

Jennifer: Basically, yeah, Nate says, even if there are lots more artifacts out there, you can drill for oil and gas without destroying things. So, were Native American artifacts at a serious risk or not? Well, that depends on your perspective on public lands and how they should be used. This is a huge and controversial question out west because public lands are designated as multiple use, for grazing, hiking, fishing and mining. This is federal law.

 

Lee Peacock: And, multiple use includes energy development. That tension you talk about in the public lands debate, I think, is kind of one over protection versus economic development versus lifestyle and there's no good answer.

 

Jennifer: This is Lee Peacock again, the head of the Utah Petroleum Association.

 

Lee Peacock: There are certainly areas in our state that absolutely deserve and need protections. There are also a lot of areas in southern Utah, especially, where the lands, while beautiful in their own right, are much like the lands 10 or 20 or 50 miles over.

 

Jennifer: Angelo Bocka, the Navajo and Hopi filmmaker totally disagrees that these lands are just kind of all the same. For him, they're all culturally significant, so he wants them protected. And, he's encouraging young people to push for that, too. After a day of touring southeast Utah, we drive to a little town called White Mesa.

 

Zack Colman: So, we're making a short stopover to our youth ambassador.

 

Jennifer: A youth ambassador with the group, called The Utah [inaudible 00:44:55], a regional Native American organization. We arrive at a little green house with perfect view of a controversial area called Bear's Ears. Twin Red Beauts rising up out of the wide open landscape. President Obama protected Bear's Ears by creating a vast national monument. Donald Trump reduce the protected area by 85%. A boy name Alejandro Yazee is waiting outside and talks to my producer, Lee.

 

Lee: So, what do you think about Bear's Ears?

 

Alejandro Yazee: It's a pretty good place. I think it's pretty sacred to our people.

 

Jennifer: Angelo's here to make a short video about the cultural importance of Bear's Ears. Alejandro takes out a piece of paper practicing his lines.

 

Lee: Why don't you just read me the first line?

 

Alejandro Yazee: Okay. Hello, I'm Alejandro Yazee.

 

Jennifer: Angelo hopes the next generation of kids, like Alejandro, will fight to protect their ancestral lands.

 

Zack Colman: Right now is a very critical time for indigenous territories all over the world. What we're seeing in the United States is a [inaudible 00:46:02] of what's going on everywhere else.

 

Jennifer: Tribes want more say about what happens on land that's important to them. The Trump administration's pushing the opposite way, green lighting energy projects despite strong Native American opposition. First, there was the Dakota Access Pipeline near Standing Rock, and the Keystone Excel Pipeline. Now, oil and gas leases in Utah. These may seem like lost battles, but for Angelo, they're helping to mobilize native communities.

 

Zack Colman: It is making us coalesce and come together as one. And, we are finally, asserting our tribal sovereignty and becoming more autonomous and independent and protecting our lands.

 

Al Letson: Conservationists have filed protests with the BLM over the oil and gas leases, but they were dismissed by the agency in May. The groups now have appealed to the Department of Interior for a ruling on their protest. In the meantime, the energy companies who leased parcels in southeastern Utah can file for permits to drill. Thanks to reporter, Jennifer Gollan and producer Lee Patterson, for bringing us that story.

 

I wanna turn back to Joel Clement. We heard from him at the top of the show. He worked on climate change policy at the Interior Department under Barack Obama. When President Trump took over, climate change was no longer a priority. Joel was transferred to a new department and eventually quit. And Joel, you've been keeping a close eye on what's happening at the interior, and this new push towards energy dominance, right?

 

Joel Clement: Yeah, it was very clearly gonna be a big issue when they came in and said, "We actually wanna be the Department of Energy here at DOI. We're the real Department of Energy." And, they started talking about this term, "Energy Dominance." For a while, it was energy independence, but that wasn't enough. Energy dominance was the new term. We all know the direct link between fossil fuel use and climate change. The more we use, climate change gets worse, there's no question about the linkage and in this case, with federal lands, it's American tax payers that are facilitating it, they're not being compensated appropriately for the most part, and they're essentially complicit. In an industry's exploitation that is damaging us. I mean, we're paying the costs up front and we're paying the costs on the backend. It's bad for Americans.

 

Al Letson: Right now, we're about halfway through our second year of President Trump's energy dominance policy. The oil and gas pumping leases Trump is pushing are just a part of it. They last for at least ten years. Now, a lot can change in a decade, what do you see happening to the people living in Alaska, along the Arctic, who you were trying to help before leaving government?

 

Joel Clement: Frankly, I don't know where I see them one year from now. Every fall, we cross our fingers and hope that a monster storm doesn't come in off the bearing or [inaudible 00:49:02] Sea and just wipe them right off the map. I mean, it's hair raising. You can imagine a bad storm on the Caribbean, right? Well, add Arctic conditions to that and things can happen very quickly. And, there's no air support up there. I mean, getting people out of harm's way in the moment is gonna be an emergency exercise that could well lead to loss of life. So, ten years from now, I know some of those villages won't be there.

 

Al Letson: Joel, good to meet you, man, and thank you for your work.

 

Joel Clement: Thanks, Al, it was a pleasure to speak with you.

 

Al Letson: Joel Clement is former policy director in the Department of the Interior. He is now a consultant and senior fellow with the Union of Concerned Scientists at the Harvard Kennedy School, where he's continuing to speak out.

 

Our lead producer for this week's show is Amy Walters. Thanks to Lee Patterson, who produced the story in southern Utah, Deb George and Taki Telonidis edited the show. Thanks to editor, Marla Cone for her help and E and E news for their collaboration. Our production manager, Mwende Hinojosa, our sound design team is the dynamic duo, Jay Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando, my man, Arruda. They had help this week from Catherine Raymando. Our acting CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Amy Pyle is our editor in chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Comerado Lightening. Support for Reveals provided by the Reeve and David Logan Foundation, the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, the Johnathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, The Heizing Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson and remember, there is always more to the story.

 

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