Zinke Suppressed Science to Gut National Monuments

Bears Ears National Monument in Southern Utah

Credit: Bob Wick/BLM

If it walks like a sham, swims like a sham, and quacks like a sham...

The Washington Post released a bombshell article on Monday finding that the Trump administration suppressed key evidence in order to justify their attack on national monuments. Against a backdrop of numerous scandals and controversies plaguing the Administration, this revelation draws into serious question Secretary Zinke’s fitness to helm the Department of Interior and fulfill its mission to serve the public interest.  

The Washington Post piece is a devastating blow to the credibility of the Interior Department. It calls into question the commitment of the agency’s leadership to safeguard our public lands and waters. It also shines a clear light on how far Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are willing to go to pursue their pro-polluter agenda.

According to the Washington Post, during the Interior Department’s “review” of national monuments last year, senior agency officials intentionally disregarded substantial evidence of the tremendous value of public lands and waters to local economies, and the critical role of national monuments in protecting important archeological and scientific resources. Instead, Interior’s political staff, at the expense of the facts, sought to exaggerate the value of the logging, mining, ranching, industrial fishing and fossil fuel development that could be unlocked if the administration rolled back certain national monuments.

The Post writes that “estimates of increased tourism revenue, analyses that existing restrictions had not hurt fishing operators and agency reports that less vandalism occurred as a result of monument designations were all set aside.” In contrast, the report reveals a focus on the “value of energy and/or minerals forgone as a result of the designations."

The Post’s conclusions are based on its review of documents that Interior first released under the Freedom of Information Act, and then retracted. NRDC has not viewed those documents, but the Post’s reporting is consistent with what we’ve come to expect from Zinke’s Interior Department. Zinke promised his review would be an unbiased factfinding mission. But it’s long been clear that Zinke and his team had their thumbs (fists?) on the scale throughout the process. They rejected factual material that would justify keeping monument protections in place. And they inserted claims that supported rolling back protections for public lands and waters.

Zinke’s agenda was clear as he scrubbed out the proof documenting how much these lands are worth to the American people: his aim was to prop up the argument that public lands should be in the hands of industrial polluters.

Zinke’s review never inspired confidence. So it’s not exactly shocking to hear that it was, in fact, a sham. Still, evidence of agency staff under the supervision of Zinke crassly wiping away the facts they disagreed with is astonishing.

As you may recall, the review yielded some stunning actions. Trump gutted Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments, ignoring the pleas of almost two million Americans. It was clear from the get go that this administration had little regard for the public or the process. But it’s an especially cynical move when agency officials methodically disregard the economic, cultural, and scientific value of public lands and waters to facilitate the destruction of these places. The decimation of the monuments also disenfranchised the tribes that were vested in safeguarding Bears Ears, their ancestral lands.

Zinke put special interests ahead of the national interest, hiding the truth from the American people so he could take lands that belong to you and me and hand them over to industrial polluters.

The Trump administration’s plan, from the start, was to gut those public lands and oceans in a special interest giveaway at the people’s expense. And now the Washington Post has found and reported on the smoking gun.

The only way Zinke’s Interior Department can reclaim a shred of credibility is to reverse the actions they took to roll back Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments and to abandon the recommendations Zinke made for any similar attacks on other monuments.

Zinke’s review failed to account for the tremendous value of our monuments. As an NRDC report demonstrates, these lands and waters are national treasures, biodiversity hot spots, economic drivers—and they have immense recreation value.  We have a national interest in preserving our history and culture, and the promise that future generations of Americans might know the natural splendor of this country, much as the very first Americans experienced it. That’s worth far more to the people of this country than to industrial polluters.

The American people—and the public lands and waters held in our trust—deserve better than this.

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