Interior Dept. changes website from family visiting park to a giant pile of coal

The new homepage of the BLM, showing a giant coal seam.

Even the smallest of symbolic details can’t escape the changes of life in Trump’s America. The government agency responsible for overseeing a staggering 258 million acres of land, including ecologically vital conservation areas, has changed the image on its homepage from a scenic park vista to a massive, tall pile of coal. 

The website change, which happened in the past 24 hours, is in keeping with the Trump administration’s push to drill for oil, natural gas, and minerals on public lands.

The new picture at the top of the site appears to be from Peabody Energy, via Wikimedia Commons. This page identifies it as “an 80 foot coal seam at the North Antelope Rochelle open cut coal mine,” and was taken in 2004. 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is part of the Interior Department, is the lesser known conservation agency whose vast land holdings take up about one-eighth of the United States, particularly across the West. When most people think about conservation areas, they think of national parks, which are also housed within the same cabinet agency. 

What the BLM homepage looked like on April 5, 2017.

What the BLM homepage looked like on April 5, 2017.

Image: internet wayback machine

But BLM oversees national monuments, national conservation areas, wilderness areas, and 5,761 miles of national scenic and historic trails, in addition to 2,400 miles of wild and scenic rivers, among other areas.

The website change is likely a temporary move, with other banner images to come during the course of the administration, but it’s noteworthy, if only because it throws the Trump administration’s staunchly pro-fossil fuels energy policy into stark relief. 

Interior secretary Ryan Zinke, who hails from Montana, a coal-producing state, has moved to cancel a moratorium of leasing oil and coal drilling rights on public lands, as well as a review of the leasing program. Environmentalists are challenging these policy decisions on procedural and other grounds, with the matter likely to be settled in courts. 

Under the Obama administration, the Interior Department put in place a moratorium on new coal leases on public lands in 2016. More importantly, it also launched an environmental review of the entire leasing program, partly to determine if it made economic sense for taxpayers (but also, if it was in line with the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to combat global warming). That review was slated to be completed in 2019 or later. 

“American energy powers our national and local economies. But for too many local communities, energy on public lands has been more of a missed opportunity and has failed to include local consultation and partnership,” Zinke said at the ceremony marking the move to overturn the Obama administration’s policy. 

The BLM also leases lands for renewable energy installations, such as wind and solar power, but the size of these operations pale in comparison to the fossil fuel footprint on public lands. 

A request for comment from the BLM about the website change has yet to be answered—if it is, we’ll update this story.

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