National Monument Review Remains in the Shadows

The Department of Interior told me today that its lawyers are reviewing whether or not they will release Secretary Ryan Zinke's report on the future of our national monuments in response to my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.  It is absurd that a team of lawyers must decide whether or not the public has a right to know the results of a supposedly public review process, and Zinke's legally questionable recommendations to diminish our national monuments.  The Trump administration is concealing significant documents regarding the future of natural wonders and cultural treasures that were passed on to us by our ancestors, and that we count on sharing with the next generation.

Trump, Zinke and foes of public land protections have ironically claimed that the establishment of new national monuments has historically lacked transparency and sincere public outreach.  Yet Zinke only released a short summary of his recommendations that lacked specific details regarding which monuments he assessed should be changed, only telling reporters cryptically that a "handful" would be reduced.

Mojave Trails National Monument
We do know that the review has involved a lot of backroom dealing; not a sincere effort to accommodate public input.  While Zinke's short summary of the review acknowledges that the vast majority of public comments urged him to leave the monuments intact,  the public comment period appears to have been nothing more than window dressing.  Zinke was selective in the stakeholders he met with during the few trips he actually made to public lands and spent a lot of time with the fossil fuels industry and its boosters.  Documents released under a separate FOIA request indicate that Zinke probably was actively soliciting specific changes from the few monument opponents, probably to counter the overwhelming public support he was hearing.  Congressman Paul Cook in California in a private letter blatantly stated that he sought changes to Mojave Trails National Monument to aid the minerals and water mining industries, for example.  The letter included maps and the names of specific mines that he sought to aid.

The Trump administration appears deaf to the millions of us that spoke up in support of our public lands, and very attentive to the whispers in their ear from extractive industries.  One of Zinke's favorite talking points is that Interior should be a "good neighbor" and "a good listener."  And here he is selling our public lands out from underneath us to the highest bidder from a dark backroom.


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