The gloves are off. Burning Man is tired of waiting for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to justify the nearly $3 million it charges the festival annually. In “an attempt to break the cycle”, an official lawsuit was filed by Black Rock City LLC, the subsidiary that produces the iconic event, in D.C. District Court on December 13th.  

The Bureau of Land Management oversees land permits for public land use and allows the organizers to host the 7-day event in Black Rock Desert. For the past 4 years, Black Rock City LLC has been waiting patiently to see if the BLM will justify the substantial charges. With no explanation in sight, they went forward with a lawsuit.  

The immense charges are to cover BLM’s services and expenses, including law enforcement and oversight during the event. The organization has also been required to pay a 3% gross recipient fee or a portion of its revenue, which was $44 million in 2018. 

Burning Man 2019 statue and fire in distance
Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Since 2012, these charges have been increasing with no explanation. In the past 3 years, charges inflated by 291% although the Burning Man population only increased by 39%. This past year, the organization paid out $2.9 million in charges, not including the commercial use fee. 

There’s been a fair bit of drama between the organization and the BLM for a few years now. In 2015, top officials were reassigned to other roles after the bureau director accused them of trying to extort Burning Man organizers. Apparently, these top-level officials made absurd demands during the 2015 event including requesting 24-hour ice cream access and flushing toilets. 

These demands, charges, and conditions, however unjust, they have left the Black Rock City LLC stuck between a rock and a hard place. Its relationship with the BLM can be described as a Hobson’s Choice conundrum, meaning that someone must submit to the undesirable option or nothing at all. With an already scheduled, highly anticipated event that attracts over 80,000 people annually, cancelling the event is out of the question. So the cycle of abuse continues. This lawsuit was set in motion to put an end to it. 

Fascinated by all things Burning Man? Us too. Check out our article on what Burning Man is really like.