Burning Man has been a major staple in the festival and art communities for decades, building a massive reputation that extends far beyond the dance music world. The iconic pop-up event is held every year in late summer in Nevada’s Black Rock desert, which also just so happens to be publicly held land. Burning Man has also grown exponentially over the years to accommodate more than 70,000 attendees in 2018. The temporary utopia, called Black Rock City, has a worldwide following and culture that provides its citizens experience a utopian escape from the “default world.”
In December 2019, Burning Man filed a lawsuit against the federal government, or more specifically the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM handles a huge amount of national land (an eighth of American soil), including national parks, deserts, forests, and more. Since Burning Man is held on these public lands, they have to pay fees annually or risk losing their festival privileges. These annual fees have jumped from $1.3 million in 2011 to nearly $3 million in 2019. Organizers have finally had enough, pushing forward in an effort to stop these unreasonable hikes and settle in a more fair range.
Burning Man said the following in a statement: “BLM has been charging our organization for unreasonable costs related to the annual Burning Man event in Northern Nevada. Burning Man Project has been seeking IBLA relief from these costs for nearly four years, and the IBLA has unreasonably denied that relief in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. This case is our attempt to break this cycle.”
This is not the first run-in Burning Man has had with the government. The lawsuit itself is actually a response that began as a public protest from 2019 when organizers called on the citizens of Black Rock to fight zoning restrictions that the government was trying to place against them. They have also filed multiple appeals to try and get these fees under control, with most of them being largely ignored or left as “pending.” Burning Man argues that these fees are unjustified, unnecessary, and inflated, and that the BLM has “unreasonably delayed” proceeding with the appeals, effectively avoiding their efforts to get an explanation for the costs. Legally, the BLM is required to provide this.
So what happens next? Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, has been summoned to appear in Washington DC’s District Court. They have up to sixty days to do so, and whatever they decide will determine the next steps. This is a massive undertaking for Burning Man and could lead to some very just rewards for them in finally reaching a fair agreement. For now, only time will tell.
Featured photo: Trey Ratcliff.