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The Hugely Profitable Bureau of Land Management


The BLM is much more of a business than a conservation agency.

Bureau of Land Management logo.

Yesterday, April 24, I wrote this column here on The Blaze explaining why I no longer support rancher Cliven Bundy.

It seems that people were confused, taking my opinion of Bundy to mean that I was on the side of the Bureau of Land Management and big government. They are mistaken. I do not need to support the man to support the cause. One can be flawed while the other is sound. They are not mutually inclusive.

As a former police officer, I can tell you that there were more effective ways for the BLM to handle the enforcment of Bundy's delinquent grazing fees. The cleanest and simplest would have been a court order to lean Bundy's property, cattle, and bank accounts. At no time were armed agents, or an on site confrontation required or warranted. But that is a different debate.

My evolution from Bundy supporter to critic came after much research. That same research also shed a very bright light on the BLM, and only reinforced my initial perception of them as an unchecked out of control agency with far too much power and control of lands in the western United States.

Armed agents for the Bureau of Land Management outside the Cliven Bundy Ranch in Nevada.  Armed agents for the Bureau of Land Management outside the Cliven Bundy Ranch in Nevada.

In fact, the BLM appears to be little more than hugely successful for-profit business wing of the Department of the Interior, masquerading as a conservation agency. Even worse, they employ nearly 300 armed agents to enforce their receivables and collections.

And you thought the Internal Revenue Service was scary. At least we see the IRS coming. Enter the BLM, an agency most Americans know nothing about.

Volumes of solid data exists on the BLM's money making enterprises. At the same time there has been one conspiracy theory after the next spreading false information far and wide.

Ironically, the truth is far more damning to the BLM than any half baked conspiracy theory could ever be.

We have all been made well aware of the massive amounts of land owned or controlled by the BLM, but little has been written about their specific business interests or just how profitable of a business the BLM is.

An excerpt from the Interior's semi-annual report to Congress for the period Oct. 1, 2012 - March 31, 2013 reads:

"The Federal Government has effectively controlled the market for helium for almost a century through its position as a predominant supplier—BLM provides about 40 percent of the Nation’s helium and 30 percent of helium to the world market."

So basically, you can thank the BLM for four out of 10 of the balloons floating at your next birthday party. If that isn't government reaching into your every day life in the sneakiest ways imaginable, I don't know what is.

Shutterstock. Shutterstock.

The report continues:

"BLM’s current helium inventory is valued at approximately $1 billion. For each percentage point increase in value, BLM would collect approximately $10 million in additional revenues. To capitalize on the opportunity to collect additional revenues, BLM needs to identify and charge market value for all helium sales to nongovernmental purchasers."

I really like the spin here. When you control 30 percent of the world's supply of anything, you are a market maker. You help determine market value. Yet the Department of Interior sees itself as a victim warehousing an under valued commodity.

Let's move on from helium and into mineral sales, shall we?

In this Department of Interior Inspector General's report from March, 2014, we learn about the BLM's $17 million dollar a year mineral business. A business the department feels is mismanaged because contract adjustments overlooked by the BLM cost the government $846,117. Interestingly, $118,600 of that loss is in Nevada alone.

Was BLM middle management looking to quickly supplement some of that lost Nevada revenue from other sources when they sent SWAT teams and snipers to the Bundy property? I don't know, but it sure does beg some questions.

Coal, Bad for Private Industry, Great for Government

Helium and minerals are small potatoes compared to the BLM's real cash cow (no Bundy pun intended).

Coal. If one is to listen to the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, coal is the root of all environmental evil. Putting private coal producers out of business is at the top of the administration's agenda.

But is the agenda environmental, or about control of the nation's access to electricity?

coalIn this April 4, 2013 file photo, a mechanized shovel loads coal onto a haul truck at the Cloud Peak Energy's Spring Creek mine near Decker, Mont. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown,file)

The Department of Interior and BLM control about 40 percent of the nation's coal leases and realize billions of dollars in revenue. Coal fueled power plants are responsible for nearly 50 percent of our nation's electricity.

A department report from June 2013 details just how profitable the coal business is for the department and BLM:

"The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the U.S. Department of the Interior (Department) oversees coal mining activities on Federal (public) and Indian lands.

The Department collects more than $1 billion in bonus and royalty revenues from coal mining companies each year, a figure that has been steadily rising. In fiscal year 2012, bonuses and royalties exceeded $2.4 billion, the highest amount recorded in the last decade."

That's $2.4 billion dollars in coal revenue for the federal government. The Obama administration's hypocrisy here is mind blowing.

Massive Profit Margins

What I find most interesting is that no conspiracy theories about the BLM were ever needed. The BLM acknowledges that it is a business, and a very profitable one on their own website:

"The BLM does its complex and challenging work with an annual budget of more than $1 billion and a workforce of about 10,000 full-time employees. The BLM is one of a handful of Federal agencies that generates more revenue for the United States than it spends. For example, in Fiscal Year 2012, nearly $5 billion will be generated by activities on BLM-managed lands, including an estimated $4.3 billion from onshore oil and gas development, with about half of those revenues going to the states where the mineral leasing occurred."

Let's think about that for a moment: $5 billion dollars in revenue, nearly half of that from coal, on $1 billion dollars in operating costs. A profit margin that far exceeds those of many of the most successful companies in history. And what about the half that doesn't go back to the states?

Bureau of Land Management logo. Bureau of Land Management logo.

Just where is the department and BLM spending that $1.5 billion in net profit?

Why is President Obama requesting a $1.1 billion dollar taxpayer funded 2015 appropriation for an agency where revenues are five times operating costs?

These are questions every member of Congress should be asking, and to which every American should be demanding answers.

Should any United States government agency be in the business of controlling 245 million acres of public lands and 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate, generating a $4 billion dollar gross annual profit, with 270 armed federal rangers and special agents making sure it all runs smoothly?

I do not think this is what Gouverneur Morris envisioned when he wrote the Preamble to our Constitution, nor Jefferson, Franklin and others when crafting the Declaration of Independence.

No, this is the stuff of sci-fi movies set in a future where government controls all at the barrel of a gun. Where people are jailed for their debts, and dissenters disappear into the night. This is not the America the Founding Fathers created, fought, and died for.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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