GRAND JUNCTION GETTING EVEN GRANDER: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) may be upping the number of employees housed in its new agency headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., acting director William Pendley told The Daily Sentinel last week.
Pendley also told the outlet that BLM was actually having trouble filling vacancies in the Washington office because many BLM employees don’t want to move to D.C. — something current BLM staffers said is not the main driver of the agency’s many vacancies.
BLM’s controversial relocation would scatter nearly 300 Washington-based employees at offices across the West, including 27 at a new headquarters in Grand Junction, a town of 60,000 in Colorado’s western slope.
The move would leave just 61 of the agency’s 10,000 employees in the nation’s capital.
Pendley told the Sentinel, Grand Junction’s daily newspaper, that while 27 is still “the most solid number,” the agency may ultimately place more people there.
“Internally we think we may go as high as 40, and I think you can quote me on that,” he said.
BLM employees who have been slated for reassignment are expected to receive their formal paperwork this week, and a number of staffers are leaving the agency rather than accept reassignments that would move them thousands of miles away.
Pendley said many BLM employees have not been wanting to take open jobs in D.C.
“It all goes to the cost of living, it goes to commuting time, it goes to proximity to recreational activities. People want to be here in the West,” he said.
Pendley said a chief of staff position was vacant for months in D.C. but that the agency received 60 applications once it was listed in Grand Junction.
But past and present BLM employees stress that’s not the full story…
Those statements counter what many BLM employees say is a poor work environment where staffers are concerned about the general direction of the agency. They see the relocation as a way to undermine its mission.
Steve Ellis, who served 38 years with BLM before retiring from its highest level career position in 2016, told The Hill Perry’s not entirely wrong about it being difficult to recruit career staffers to D.C. for the reasons Perry mentions. But he and other BLM staff said the agency hasn’t been actively trying to fill them given the pending move.
“Obviously they’ve been thinking about moving them anyway. That rumor has been floating around for two years,” Ellis said, even though the move wasn’t officially announced until July. “If you’re interested in a job out in D.C. and hearing rumors you may have to turn right around and go back out West, why would you apply? So I think there’s some of that affect going on, too.”
A current BLM staffer told The Hill that the agency has “discouraged” hiring in D.C. under the Trump administration, avoiding filling full time jobs and instead relying on “detailers” to temporarily serve in various roles.
But beyond the vacancies the Trump administration inherited, many BLM employees have opted to leave the agency since the relocation was announced on July 16.
“There’s one or two going away parties a week,” the staffer said. “Since July 16 people have gotten aggressive about job hunting if they cannot move.”
Read more about the relocation plans here.
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A FRIEND IN NEED: Two political backers of Energy Secretary Rick Perry landed a lucrative oil and gas exploration deal from Ukraine’s government shortly after Perry reportedly included one of the two men in a list of suggested potential advisers to Ukraine’s new president, according to The Associated Press.
The AP reported Monday that Michael Bleyzer was among four names Perry had recommended to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Bleyzer and partner Alex Cranberg later got a contract to drill for oil and gas despite despite offering a bid that was lower than their only other competitor, the AP reported citing internal Ukrainian government documents.
The contract was awarded to Bleyzer and Cranberg because they were deemed as having better technical expertise and stronger financial backing, the AP also reported, citing the documents.
A major GOP donor, Bleyzer supported Perry’s unsuccessful 2012 bid for the Republican presidential nomination. He is based in Perry’s home state of Texas.
He told the AP in a statement that Perry’s conversations with Ukraine’s government “did not play any role in Ukrainian Energy winning its bid” in the country and added that the process “will hopefully serve as an example of how the Ukrainian energy market can be opened for new investments.”
A spokesperson for the Energy Department denied to The Hill that Perry advocated for any specific U.S. figures or business interests during his conversations with Ukraine’s government.
“Throughout his tenure, Secretary Perry has championed the American energy industry all over the world. As previously stated, throughout his engagements with Ukrainian officials Secretary Perry has consistently called for the modernization and reform of Kyiv’s business and energy sector in an effort to create an environment that will incentivize Western companies to do business in Ukraine,” said spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes.
“He delivered that same message during his visit to Ukraine for the Inauguration of President Zelenskyy. What he did not do is advocate for the business interests of any one individual or company,” she added.
Read more about Perry here.
PARIS CLIMATE DISAGREEMENT: President Trump’s official withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord is raising questions about how much leverage the U.S. will lose by leaving it, and how quickly it might be able to regain its global position if the next president opts to reenter the agreement.
Experts say the U.S. has already created a leadership vacuum by refusing to take on climate change under the Trump administration, a factor that will only worsen without an American presence in the agreement.
“Without the U.S. engaged, we don’t have the technical, the moral or the financial impetus that the world needs,” said Christopher Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University.
Trump’s formal withdrawal notice this week, given on the first day possible, means the U.S. won’t officially be out of the deal, which is signed by every other country in the world, until Nov. 4, 2020, one day after the next presidential election.
Pledging to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord has become box to tick for 2020 Democrats, with many saying they’ll do so on their very first day in office.
Legal experts say this won’t be difficult. A new president could use executive authority to enter the agreement much in the way that former President Obama did, with no permission from Congress required.
“To get back in, a new administration would just have to submit another notification or another letter to the U.N. Secretary General, and they could rejoin within 30 days,” said Brendan Guy, manager of international policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, making Feb. 19, 2021 the earliest possible date the U.S. could rejoin the agreement.
Getting out of it isn’t that hard either. The Paris agreement required countries to remain in the pact for three years before giving a one-year heads up of plans to withdrawal. Now that Trump has given notice, it’s mainly a matter of waiting out the clock until the U.S. is no longer part of the accord.
And climate experts say it’s not clear the U.S. will do much else to engage on global climate issues, giving up leverage to push other major carbon emitters to take stronger action, which Trump has long argued the deal failed to accomplish.
“Trump is giving away one of the best tools we have to make sure all countries are acting, including China and India,” said David Waskow, director of the World Resources Institute’s International Climate Initiative, pointing to two countries often targeted by Trump.
On Monday, a number of U.S. and world leaders criticized the president’s decision, with Germany calling it “regrettable” even if not surprising.
But it’s hardly just environmental policy experts and world leaders who back staying in the accord. The majority of Americans, 77 percent, said they supported staying in the agreement, including 60 percent of Republicans, according to a 2018 Yale University poll of registered voters.
Experts say the U.S. is walking away from the deal as two important meetings approach.
One in a few weeks in Madrid will review international carbon markets and hammer out other details as countries prepare to update their emissions reductions targets as required every five years. And a meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, next year where counties will convene after announcing the new targets will be held with the U.S. on the sidelines.
“They’ll be relegated to observer status, which is basically the same as an international organization that doesn’t have any say,” Guy said.
How quickly the U.S. could manage to return to a leadership role remains to be seen.
“I think when I look at the last few years of the way the U.S. has operated on the international scene, how long will it take to restore confidence that other countries can trust the United States — I don’t know if that’s a flip that switches where the U.S. is a trusted counterpart or if it takes a generation to rebuild that,” Field said.
Read more about the ramifications of the U.S. exit here.
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:
Thousands face life-threatening floods from aging dams, the Associated Press reports.
How will Greta Thunberg get to Madrid? E&E News asks.
Iran increasing production of low-enriched uranium, nuclear official says, we report.
John Oliver roasts litigious coal titan in epic, squirrel-filled musical number, the Los Angeles Times reports.
ICYMI: Stories from Monday and over the weekend…
Bureau of Land Management may up the number of staff at new headquarters in Colorado
Iran increasing production of low-enriched uranium, nuclear official says
Perry backers secured lucrative Ukraine gas deal after his meeting with new president: report
Former coal exec Don Blankenship launches third-party presidential bid
Paris exit makes it tougher for US to lead a green future, experts say
Ocasio-Cortez: Exxon Mobil ‘knew exactly what it was doing‘
FROM THE HILL’S OPINION PAGES:
-Changing a utility’s owner won’t put out the fire, writes Casey DeMoss, is co-founder of Americans for Common Sense Energy Policies.