The Bureau of Land Management appears to have backed down on their demand for a concrete trash fence, but they’re sticking to their guns on drug and weapons searches, and denying a request to increase attendance to 100,000.
This is an unusually tense summer for the folks at Burning Man headquarters, because it’s currently 75 days from the event’s opening, and they technically still do not have a permit to use the Black Rock Desert site. They’ve been awaiting approval of their new 10-year permit, which would go into effect this year, from the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that operates that land. The BLM’s Environmental Impact Statement with its recommendations arrived last Friday, and Burners aren’t going to be happy. The Reno Gazette-Journal reports that the feds may require drug screens at every entrance of Burning Man — something organizers say will create chaos and massive delays at the gates.
BLM denies Burning Man growth to 100,000 people, may implement drug screens in future https://t.co/5cQqebwmWe— RGJ.com (@rgj) June 14, 2019
The BLM’s proposed requirements come in an 876-page PDF behemoth, 174 pages here and another 702 pages here. They demand “third-party, private security to screen vehicles and participants, vendors and contractors, and staff and volunteers entering the Event” who would report “directly to law enforcement.” The BLM asks that the security guards be placed “at all portals of entry into the Event, beginning approximately 14 days before Labor Day.”
The bureau offers the hilarious rationale that “illicit drug use can result in an urgent need to evacuate one’s refuse, resulting in increases of human feces deposited on the playa and left unclaimed by participants in recent years.” Having attended myself in recent years, I would chime in that such incidents are rather isolated, and not the most tragic or problematic byproduct of drug use on the playa.
This is not a final decision from the BLM; we now go into 30-day “reading period" wherein the public can submit feedback before the 10-year permit is approved. The top-line changes to the Burning Man status quo are that the event will not be required to build the implausible 10-mile concrete trash fence around Black Rock City, but they’ve also been provisionally denied a request to increase their attendance cap to 100,000, from last year's cap of 80,000.
“The BLM and cooperating agencies could not support the event growing,” BLM spokesperson Rudy Evenson said in a statement. “The city of Reno, Nevada Department of Transportation, Nevada Highway Patrol as well as the Bureau of Land Management could not support the growth particularly because there are other events going on during Labor Day.”
We expect the Bureau of Land Management's Final Environmental Impact Statement to be published tomorrow, June 14. Thank you to the over 1,800 people who submitted substantive comments about the Draft EIS after it was published in March.https://t.co/8ihSsYrFNI— Burning Man Project (@burningman) June 13, 2019
The Burning Man organization has not said much so far. While they spent Thursday tweeting and blogging about the expected release of the report Friday, on Saturday they emailed a very non-committal statement to media saying, "We will be taking the next few days to fully analyze and understand (the final environmental impact statement's) contents. Our priority at the moment is the 2019 event, and we are deeply engaged in planning and production."
Burning Man sounds like they're treading very diplomatically here, particularly after their April claims that the new rules posed an “existential threat” to the event. They can still use a combination of sweet-talking and arm-twisting to influence the outcome of their permit requirements, and the organization has become an incredibly shrewd government lobbyist. They’ve got friends in very high places, but in ways that might disgust old-school Burners.
Also Burning Man is cancelled now, sorry, I don’t make the rules. pic.twitter.com/lcmHRubZT3— Scafe for America (@erinscafe) June 14, 2019
For instance, last week Los Angeles magazine reported that Trump treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin went to Burning Man one year. His horrible-person wife Louise Linton told the magazine, “I have pictures that I won’t show you.” And you may recall that back in 2014, Republican pundit Grover Norquist made his pilgrimage to the playa, and he found it had "more camaraderie and sense of community than a church social."