A U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) environmental analyst is “facing termination” for blowing the whistle on environmental concerns related to a “massive Wyoming oil and gas project,” according to a March 16 press release from nonprofit group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
PEER states that Walter Loewen “repeatedly stressed to the BLM’s leadership the high potential mortality from the Converse County oil and gas project.” The project is part of a “controversial BLM decision to approve a plan for 5,000 oil and gas wells, 500 miles of gas pipelines, 900 miles of water pipelines, new roads, and electrical lines in Converse County, Wyoming.” PEER notes that BLM analysts raised concerns that the project would “seriously degrade nesting sites of ferruginous hawks, kestrels, owls, and other raptors” — however, according to the press release, BLM “removed key restrictions on drilling and other work during bird breeding and nesting periods.”
Loewen’s disclosures raised these issues and highlighted the dangers the project posed to the ferruginous hawk. However, PEER states that after Loewen blew the whistle, he “was removed from all further environmental work on that or any other projects and sidelined” to complete “make-work” assignments.
“The Wyoming State Office has now proposed removing him from federal service for alleged performance issues on his new tasks despite his many years of prior strong performance ratings,” the press release states. WNN will continue covering Loewen’s case.
According to news source Government Executive, “after he was stripped of his normal duties, Loewen’s supervisor, who assumed that role shortly before his change in work, issued a ‘notice of opportunity to demonstrate acceptable performance’ that gave him 30 days to improve.” The supervisor cited issues with Loewen’s work but “did not propose his removal until last month.”
“I haven’t changed in 16 years,” Loewen said in the Government Executive article. “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.”
“Inside Trump’s BLM, speaking truth to power was not tolerated,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins. Jenkins is leading Loewen’s defense team and says that Loewen, who “worked at several federal agencies before joining BLM six years ago,” is being targeted “because he actually tried to do his job.”
PEER also states that the Biden administration “scrapped a Trump initiative to allow unintended killing of migratory birds by industry operations.” According to the press release, “[p]rior to that reversal, BLM waived some of the strongest protections for raptors in the Converse County oil project.” The agency’s Environmental Impact Statement, which was the project from which Loewen was removed, “endorsed the elimination of limits on construction and drilling activity during periods when birds mate or fledge their chicks.”
Additionally, PEER points out that the official in charge of deciding Loewen’s employment status is Duane Spencer, Acting Associate BLM State Director, “who signed off on the agency decisions allowing the excess bird deaths.” The press release states that “PEER has formally asked that Spencer recuse himself from the matter because of his prior history, but he and the agency have rebuffed that request.”
Loewen is currently still in his position doing “busywork” but has said “he has faced pressure to leave.” Government Executive reports that Loewen and PEER “are prepared to file an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board if BLM follows through on firing him.” However, in the meantime, Loewen said “he will continue to do his best.”
“I did try to do an excellent job on all my work because that’s what I do,” Loewen said in the article. “It doesn’t matter if it is considered busywork.”