This week we received evidence of a local public servant sacrificing the public interest for personal gain.
Federal investigators released results of their inquiry into Steve Henke’s conduct while head of New Mexico’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Farmington Field Office. The report revealed that Henke took improper gifts from the oil and gas companies he regulated and “attempted to obstruct” the investigation.
The report was finalized in 2013, but it was just released to the public. Where has it been for three years?
Even though the report found Henke violated public policy, federal laws, and the Standard of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch, no disciplinary action was taken.
Why? Because he hasn’t worked for the BLM for six years. He’s been lobbying for oil and gas as the head of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA). He represents the same companies he took gifts from while supposedly regulating. Is that a conflict of interest? Should be, according to 18 U.S. Code Subsection 207, but isn’t according to this week’s report.
Why does this matter? Because it has real implications for how our public lands and minerals are managed. Right now we’re in litigation against the BLM Farmington Field Office because they continue to approve oil and gas leases near Chaco despite acknowledging that they haven’t conducted the required analysis of potential impacts. As a result, hundreds of illegally permitted leases are sacrificing irreplaceable cultural resources, and threaten air and water quality for modern native communities.
Does this unethical conflict of interest of a veteran of the agency have anything to do with that agency violating its own rules in favor of industry? It sure looks suspicious.
Henke is leaving NMOGA this year, so who’s taking his job? Ryan Flynn, former Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, and so the cycle continues.