BLM employee faces retaliation for blowing the whistle on massive oil and gas project

by Carly Fabian, Research Associate

Published on April 01, 2021

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BLM employee faces retaliation for blowing the whistle on massive oil and gas project

An employee in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Walter Loewen, blew the whistle on threats to sensitive bird species and other wildlife from a controversial oil and gas project. He’s now at risk of being fired reports Whistleblower Network News.

According to a press release from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Loewen is facing retaliation after he “repeatedly stressed to the BLM’s leadership the high potential mortality from the Converse County oil and gas project.”

The Converse County project in Wyoming, which received approval just weeks before the Biden administration took over, would require the construction of 5,000 new wells, 500 miles of gas pipelines, and 900 miles of water pipelines, as well as new roads and electric lines. Conservation groups have previously condemned the project, whose 1.5 million acre-stretch would affect 1,124 raptor nests and 46 sage-grouse mating sites.

Despite concerns from inside the agency, BLM management removed timing restrictions that protected raptors from drilling, allowing the option of drilling year-round under certain conditions. The restrictions were removed as part of a Trump administration initiative that allowed unintended killings of birds, which was recently reversed by the Biden administration.

According to coverage in Government Executive, Loewen spent 16 years conducting environmental impact assessments, including 6 years at BLM where he had received all adequate and above average performance reviews. After raising concerns with management that the Converse project would negatively impact several species of birds, including sensitive species, he was removed from all NEPA projects and given “busywork.”

“I haven’t changed in 16 years,” Loewen stated in the Government Executive, “Since [my supervisor] cannot give me specifics of why that occurred, the only thing I can conclude is my comments regarding Converse County were not received well.”

“The real reason Walter Loewen was targeted for removal is because he actually tried to do his job,” stated Peter Jenkins, Senior Counsel at PEER.

Loewen is not alone in blowing the whistle on BLM’s relationship with the oil and gas industry. PEER is representing another whistleblower, Dan Patterson, who accused BLM of becoming a “permit shop” for extractive industries. Patterson filed a complaint last October describing 10 specific incidents he alleged either violated federal law or consisted of abuse of authority.

Loewen’s dismissal is now pending signoff from BLM management. The official making the final determination on his firing is Duane Spencer, the acting associate director who ignored Loewen’s concerns and gave the initial approval for the project.

PEER has asked that Spencer “recuse himself from the matter due to his prior history, but he rebuffed that request.” PEER also stated they are prepared to file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board if BLM follows through on his termination. In the meantime, Loewen told Government Executive that he would continue to do his best:

“I did try to do an excellent job on all my work because that’s what I do,” Loewen stated. “It doesn’t matter if it is considered busywork.”

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