Zinke Recommends Shrinking a 'Handful' of the Nation's Most Cherished Public Lands
Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke will recommend unspecified boundary adjustments for a "handful" of the 27 national monuments under review by the Trump administration, according to an interview with the Associated Press.
Zinke commented that he will not ask President Trump to rescind any designations or revert sites to new ownership. Any areas removed from the protected lands would also remain under federal control and public access would remain or improve.
Under Trump's April executive order, Zinke was given 120 days to determine if previous presidential administrations exceeded their authority in monument designations from 1996 to present that are 100,000 acres or greater in size. Republican lawmakers have particularly accused President Obama, who designated more monuments than any other president, of abusing the Antiquities Act to protect land and water.
"No President should use the authority under the Antiquities Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed to protect the object," Zinke said in a statement today about the draft report he submitted to Trump.
"The recommendations I sent to the president on national monuments will maintain federal ownership of all federal land and protect the land under federal environmental regulations, and also provide a much needed change for the local communities who border and rely on these lands for hunting and fishing, economic development, traditional uses, and recreation."
The former Montana congressman did not specify to the AP which sites could undergo changes. The White House has not yet issued a comment.
Zinke visited eight of the 27 national monuments under review. He previously recommended no changes to six sites in Montana, Colorado, Idaho, California, Arizona and Washington. He said that the Obama-designated Bears Ears National Monument in Utah should be downsized, despite widespread public opposition to such a plan.
Today's news was a blow to environmental groups that have long expressed fears that the lands could be sold to private development.
"Any recommendation from Secretary Zinke to shrink national monuments is hypocritical at best and ruinous at worst. Secretary Zinke claims to support public lands, but now we know he's just one more Trump Administration stooge for polluting special interests," Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said.
"Whether the preservation of Native American sacred sites or a natural wonder of the world, public lands and waters are granted monument status for a reason. Stripping these places of that protection devalues the diverse history they preserve, the outdoor economy they support, and the future they offer," Brune continued.
"This misguided recommendation is yet another unpopular action from an unpopular administration—one they are too ashamed to make public. The American people deserve to know what Sec. Zinke, Trump and their friends in the dirty fuel industry plan to do with our public lands under the guise of this sham review."
A recent analysis found that 99.2 percent of the millions of public comments submitted about Bears Ears and other parks opposed Trump's executive order that placed them under scrutiny.
"The recommendation to alter certain national monuments, including reducing Bears Ears in Utah, is the direct result of Secretary Zinke favoring the voices of oil and gas executives instead of the people who submitted nearly 3 million public comments opposing changes to these important places," Greenpeace USA climate campaigner Mary Sweeters said.
"What could have been protected public lands and waters for generations to come now face the risk of becoming oil fields, thanks to an Interior Department full of oil and gas errand-boys like Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt. The public response to the Trump administration's review of nearly 30 public land and marine monuments broke records, and the sentiment that these lands and marine regions should remain protected was nearly unanimous," Sweeters continued.
"From Alaska to Utah, people are prepared to stand up to Trump and Secretary Zinke and demand that the Interior Department protect public places from greedy oil and gas developers looking for short-term profit with long-term consequences."
Ben Schreiber, senior political strategist at Friends of the Earth, had similar sentiments and vowed legal action should Trump follow Zinke's recommendations.
"Today's announcement is another in a long line of blatant handouts to the oil and gas industry," he said. "If Secretary Zinke recommends shrinking Bears Ears National Monument it will be another slap in the face to Native American tribes who lobbied for years to get it designated as a National Monument. This follows on the heels of Trump's approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline despite strong tribal opposition. Zinke's action is illegal and he can rest assured that his latest giveaway to corporate polluters will be litigated in the courts."
Rhea Suh, president of Natural Resources Defense Council, agreed. "These cherished waters and iconic lands have been set aside, for all time, so that future generations may know the natural splendor, cultural diversity and vivid history we share as American people," she said. "That's a promise we've made to our children. It's a promise we're going to keep. If Trump tries to break it, we'll see him in court. That's a promise too."
Zinke declined the AP's request to comment on whether portions of the monuments would be opened up to oil and gas drilling, mining, logging and other industries. However, he dismissed fears about the intention to sell off public lands.
"I've heard this narrative that somehow the land is going to be sold or transferred," he said. "That narrative is patently false and shameful. The land was public before and it will be public after."
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
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<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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