Meanwhile, North Of The Border


The Interior Secretary, one of President Trump’s most loyal allies, sees public lands as the key to an “energy-dominant” future. Photograph by Morgan Rachel Levy / Redux

Yesterday’s rich south of the border story is complemented, not flatteringly, by this note by Carolyn Kormann:

Ryan Zinke’s Great American Fire Sale

Not long ago, the Bureau of Land Management, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, began distributing “vision cards” to its employees. The front of each card features the B.L.M. logo (a river winding into green foothills); short descriptions of the Bureau’s “vision,” “mission,” and “values”; and an oil rig. On the flip side is a list of “guiding principles,” accompanied by an image of two cowboys riding across a golden plain. Amber Cargile, a B.L.M. spokeswoman, told me that the new cards are meant to reflect the agency’s “multiple-use mission on working landscapes across the West, which includes grazing, energy, timber, mining, recreation, and many other programs.” Individual employees, she added, can opt to wear or display the cards at their own discretion. But, according to the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which obtained photos of the cards and shared them with the Washington Post, supervisors in at least two B.L.M. field offices have been verbally “advising that employees must clip them to their lanyards.” Some workers, speaking to the Post anonymously, said that they felt they had no choice but to comply.

Since last March, when Ryan Zinke assumed leadership of the Interior Department, vacating Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, this sort of ideological conformity has been a top priority. On Wednesday, the department’s Office of Inspector General released a report finding that, between June and October of last year, Zinke reassigned twenty-seven senior officials without reason or adequate warning. Many of them “questioned whether these reassignments were political or punitive,” the report states, “or believed their reassignment may have been related to their prior work assignments, including climate change, energy, or conservation.” (In response, Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt said that the department will continue to use “reassignments robustly as a management tool.”) In some B.L.M. field offices, posters depicting conservation landmarks, such as a federally protected red-rock canyon, have been swapped out for ones showing a towering black coal bed and a yellow haul truck. One Interior Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal, said that the agency had discontinued its program of making conservation posters publicly available. The new ones are strictly internal—“for employee morale,” the source said, with evident irony.

Barely three weeks after Zinke took office, President Trump issued an executive order aimed at “promoting energy independence and economic growth,” in which he directed the Interior Secretary to “suspend, revise, or rescind” any guidelines that imposed “regulatory burdens” on the oil, natural-gas, and mining industries. Zinke, a former Navy seal who raised money for his congressional campaign by raffling off an AR-15 painted with the stars and stripes, seemed keen to carry out the President’s order, but he initially encountered some resistance. In a speech to the National Petroleum Council last September, Zinke claimed that a third of the career civil servants under his command were “not loyal to the flag,” by which he meant Trump. He compared his department to a group of pirates who capture “a prized ship at sea and only the captain and the first mate row over” to get the job done. The vision cards, it appears, were meant to remind B.L.M. employees that their main responsibility is not to keep the prized ship afloat but to plunder it for all the fossil fuels, ore, and grazing rights it’s worth.

Zinke isn’t the first Interior Secretary to see this as the agency’s proper function, but he has been more aggressive than his predecessors at implementing his agenda. So far, he and Trump have eliminated two million acres from the nation’s protected areas, and offered another 11.6 million acres of largely wild public lands to oil-and-gas prospectors. (Zinke also proposed raising entrance fees at some national parks by forty dollars or more, arguing that too many people—“elderly, fourth-graders, veterans, disabled”—get in at a discount or for free. After widespread protest, he announced this week that his department would raise the fee by five dollars.) The most substantial wholesale cuts have been in southern Utah, where Trump shrunk Bears Ears National Monument by eighty-five per cent and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by half. Both monuments were originally protected by Democratic Presidents—Bears Ears, in 2016, by Barack Obama; Grand Staircase, in 1996, by Bill Clinton—and it isn’t yet clear whether Trump has the constitutional authority to reverse their directives. What is clear, though, is why he did it. According to internal agency documents obtained by the Times, the decision was driven by the potential for oil, coal, gas, and uranium exploration within the monuments’ borders. A month before Zinke announced plans to review the status of roughly thirty national monuments, inviting the public to comment, he was in touch with Utah’s congressional delegation about the parts of Bears Ears that could be developed. In the end, the monument’s new boundaries were an almost exact match for what the Utahns wanted…

Read the whole story here.

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