Week 21: The Corporate Takeover of Our National Parks

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Welcome to our weekly Trump v. Earth column, in which onEarth reviews the environment-related shenanigans of President Trump and his allies.

This week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke not only called to shrink Bears Ears National Monument but also proposed privatizing public parks.

Reuters/Carlos Barria

All Ears

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended on Monday that President Trump shrink Bears Ears, a national monument in southeastern Utah designated during the Obama administration. The recommendation comes as part of Zinke’s controversial review of 27 national monuments.

It’s not clear exactly how Zinke decided Bears Ears should be smaller. At first, he emphasized the exacting, detailed process he undertook in arriving at his conclusion. Zinke told reporters “the recommendations were not made in a bubble in Washington, D.C.,” but instead were based on a journey “by air, by car, by foot, and by horseback.” And yet, despite taking more modes of transit than Steve Martin and John Candy, Zinke didn’t make any specific proposals about the ideal size or borders of the monument. If he got to know the area in such painstaking detail, why is he coming back with nothing more than “make it smaller”?

The interior secretary also appears to be taking us back 100 years in federal–tribal relations. He claimed tribal leaders are “pretty happy and willing to work with us” on shrinking Bears Ears. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, however, called Zinke’s proposal a “slap in the face to the members of our tribes and an affront to Indian people all across the country.”

Zinke’s Worst Idea

In addition to shrinking public lands, Zinke announced plans to increase “public–private partnerships”—code for privatizing the management of our national park system. The idea is both unpopular (huge majorities of Americans in virtually every demographic oppose privatization) and unwise (our national parks are a public good and therefore should be publicly managed).

It’s worth noting that public–private partnerships can sometimes work for parks. One such partnership turned Central Park, once decrepit and dangerous, into the beating heart of New York City. But the difference is, the Central Park Conservancy was established to save a dying park. The National Park Service has already proven that the federal government is brilliant at caring for our national gems. Our parks are the envy of the world.

But hard-right fool-osophers can’t leave well enough alone. Perhaps the success of the national parks under government management stands as a threat to their worldview. If the government can run our parks so well, maybe it can manage other things, too. For this reason, the extreme right has sought to discredit the service at every turn. A senior fellow at the right-wing Heritage Foundation, for example, called the NPS “the world’s largest lawn care and janitorial service.”

Photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams once said of those who care about the national parks, “We who are gathered here may represent a particularly elite, not of money and power, but of concern for the earth for the earth’s sake.” Or maybe they’re just a bunch of janitors. Depends on your political views.

The G Stands for Galled

EPA chief Pruitt left the two-day G7 climate summit early—after participating for just a few hours.

Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

The diplomatic blowback from Trump’s planned withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement has begun. The G7 held an environmental meeting this week, at which only six of the seven countries signed a statement calling the Paris Agreement “irreversible” and key for the “security and prosperity of our planet.” Only the United States abstained, adding in its own footnote that “We, the United States of America, continue to demonstrate through action, having reduced our CO2 footprint as demonstrated by achieving pre-1994 CO2 levels domestically.” (You’ll notice the verb demonstrate is missing a direct object, leaving it unclear exactly what the United States continues to demonstrate. Half-heartedness? Unearned self-satisfaction? An obvious lack of ambition?)

Canada’s environment minister, Catherine McKenna, expressed “deep disappointment” with the U.S. abstention, neatly encapsulating the feeling that most Americans have with the Trump administration in general.

Meanwhile, Republican legislators are concerned about how the withdrawal will affect businesses. North Dakota representative Kevin Cramer told Politico’s “Morning Energy” that he is worried about companies like General Electric and Microsoft. “When you have big companies in a global market, it’s good for them to feel the support of the government,” Cramer said.

General Electric has already angered Trump by publicly supporting NAFTA, and Microsoft filed a legal brief in opposition to his travel ban. I’d like to think the president wouldn’t withdraw our country from history’s most important environmental agreement to spite his enemies, but who would put it past him?

Methane Math

At the end of May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a 90-day delay in implementing rules to limit the leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas operations. This week, the EPA decided that 90 days isn’t enough time to figure out how big a favor it wants to do for the fossil fuel industry, so it announced new plans to suspend the rule for a full two years.

The administration delayed a crackdown on methane emissions yet again.

Alexey Solodov/Alamy Stock Photo

Trump likes to boast about how much his administration has accomplished in a very short time. Just this week, he convened a meeting of cabinet-level officials to talk about how productive they’ve all been, claiming that “never has there been a president . . . who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than what we’ve done.” (He graciously conceded that, perhaps, FDR did more.)

And yet, Trump officials are always asking for more time. They need two years to think about the methane rule. They need time to devise a position on the Clean Power Plan. And they’re not just stalling on environmental regulations. Bloomberg’s Toluse Olorunnipa points out that the Trump administration habitually promises to publicize its big plans in two weeks but never meets its own deadlines. The president has, at various times, promised to announce a tax code overhaul, an infrastructure plan, and a decision on NAFTA “in two weeks.” But we’re still waiting. Even after publication of Olorunnipa’s widely read story, Trump promised that, in just two weeks, he would release impressive information on the fight against ISIS. Don’t hold your breath.

The methane delay, though, is particularly egregious, because the Trump administration is pretending it does not have information that is already publicly available. For example, while Trump’s EPA says that suspending the rule will save companies $172 million, it claims not to know the economic value of reducing the pollution, in the form of health and productivity gains. In fact, the Obama administration showed that by 2020, those benefits would be approximately $360 million. Suspending the methane rule would be an economic and environmental loser. The administration shouldn’t need two years to figure that out.

Stay up-to-date on Trump’s environmental antics by visiting NRDC’s Trump Watch or following it on Facebook or Twitter.


onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Trump Watch: NRDC tracks the Trump administration’s assaults on the environment

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Plus, the Senate prepares to give Trump’s budget proposal its last rites.

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And the president nominates two more saboteurs to top positions at the Interior and Transportation Departments.

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And hires a fossil fuel lover to run the DOE’s renewable energy office.

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The president ponders whether to undo protections for America’s national monuments.

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Now hiring: 24-hour bodyguards for the EPA administrator, as he seeks to fire thousands and risk the bodies of all Americans.

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