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Zinke’s unscientific reign over 500 million acres of public land

By as published on

“He is out, TODAY!!!”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is departing Jan. 2 amid multiple ethics investigations, leaves a legacy of widespread attacks on science. Zinke was in charge of balancing protection of national parks, endangered species, waterways and other resources with public uses on 500 million acres of public land.

Here are six ways Zinke rejected or impeded science during his nearly two years as interior secretary:

Changes in staffing

Zinke set an anti-science tone early by reassigning the Interior Department’s top climate change official to a job managing fossil fuel royalties. Thirty-two other senior career employees also were reassigned last year. He suspended dozens of Bureau of Land Management resource advisory councils and reconvened them with new responsibilities to expedite oil and gas permitting and meet other Trump administration priorities. He filled a national parks advisory committee with big donors and businesspeople. He  appointed former lobbyists to key jobs, including Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, who is a former oil company lobbyist.

Threats to ancient treasures and birds

Under Zinke, the Bureau of Land Management put countless archaeological sites at risk by auctioning off oil and gas leases in southeast Utah. Zinke expedited lease sales to oil companies that encompassed tens of thousands of acres near two national monuments in Utah.

Also, by crafting a new legal opinion, the Interior Department’s solicitor’s office erased a policy that had been used by Republicans and Democrats since the Nixon administration to protect migratory birds. Zinke’s top lawyer declared that it’s no longer illegal for companies to accidentally kill birds with oil wastewater ponds, wind turbines and other industrial practices.

Removal of climate change references

Every mention of the human role in causing climate change was removed from a draft of a major National Park Service scientific report on sea-level rise and storm surge. The references were reinserted after Reveal exposed the attempted censorship. But the data and an interactive website that were supposed to be made public still have been blocked from release.

A small New England national park, the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, was told that mentioning climate change would raise eyebrows with the new administration. So the park’s managers removed every mention from a major report meant to guide park leaders’ decisions for decades. Interior Department officials directed the National Park Service to cancel a policy that required science-based decision making.

Business interests above ecological protection

Many of Zinke’s attacks on science benefit fossil fuel industries. But real estate developers and mining companies are reaping benefits, too. For instance, with Zinke in charge, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reversed itself and retracted concerns about a city-sized housing project in Arizona that scientists say could turn the Southwest’s last free-flowing major river into an intermittent stream.

Political litmus test for scientific research

Columbia University Law School’s Silencing Science Tracker lists 34 examples of science being censored, defunded or hindered under Zinke. U.S. Geological Survey scientists who want to attend scientific conferences were required to demonstrate how their research relates to Zinke’s 10 priorities, according to guidelines first reported by The Washington Post.

Zinke also put a high school football buddy with no scientific expertise in charge of reviewing proposals for scientific grants at the Interior Department. This review, managed by Steve Howke, created a bottleneck that slowed the funding of research, according to The Guardian.

Misstating climate science

In his last weeks in office, Zinke misinformed the public about a major report on climate change impacts, the National Climate Assessment, which was released in late November. In a television interview, Zinke erroneously asserted that the report was slanted.

“It appears they took the worst-case scenarios and they built predictions upon that,” he said.

The report was compiled by hundreds of scientists and 13 federal agencies and considered a wide range of scenarios.

“I wrote the climate scenarios chapter myself so I can confirm it considers ALL scenarios,” Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and professor of political science at Texas Tech University, tweeted.

6 replies »

  1. Good riddance definition, the act or fact of clearing away or out, as anything undesirable. Good riddance to bad rubbish is said when you are pleased that a bad or unwanted thing or person, or something of poor quality, has gone. Good riddance is what I say.



    Wolf Killing is an Unfair and Destructive Subsidy
    DECEMBER 31, 2018

    The killing of a wolf pup near Corral Creek outside Sun Valley, Idaho was done to protect John Peavy’s business, Flat Top Sheep Company. Once again this raises the question of why public wildlife should be killed to increase the profitability of private enterprises operating on our public lands.
    It is especially disconcerting that Peavy did not implement minimum measures to protect his own sheep, instead, used a taxpayer-funded “hired gun,” i.e., USDA Wildlife Services to kill our wolves.

    Grazing on public lands is a privilege, not a right. Why should Peavy sheep, and his business interests be allowed to jeopardize, harass and kill public wildlife


  3. From PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)

    Proposed Rules Facilitate Request, Fee Waiver, and Expedited Processing Rejections
    Posted on Dec 31, 2018

    Citing “Exponential increases in requests and litigation,” the Interior Department quietly on Friday unveiled proposed regulations to expand its discretion to block Freedom of Information Act requests, fee waivers, and expedited handling of records about breaking news stories. These changes are vaguely worded and will likely lead to more not less FOIA litigation, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), one of the top FOIA litigation groups in the country.
    Despite the government shutdown affecting Interior, the agency posted a Federal Register notice on December 28th soliciting public comment on a rewrite of its FOIA regulations. The proposal contains provisions that appear to target the news media, such as –
    Striking “a breaking news story of general public interest” as a legitimate basis for obtaining expedited processing of a FOIA request;
    Adding an additional layer of approval by the Office of Solicitor “before granting expedited processing requests”; and
    Allowing Interior to deflect requests to other agencies if it determines that another agency “would be better able to determine whether the record is exempt from disclosure.” The current standard is that the requested bureau “has no responsive records.”

    The proposal was issued under the signature of Daniel Jorjani as the “Principal Deputy Solicitor, Exercising the Authority of the Solicitor”, a convoluted title reflecting that neither Jorjani nor a Solicitor have been confirmed by the Senate. Most of Interior’s top slots are still filled by acting officials, several without a nominee in the offing.
    The public comment period on this FOIA proposal ends in 30 days, on January 28, 2019.



    An Illustrated Guide to the Swamp Creature Who Could Be the Next Interior Secretary
    How David Bernhardt became “the guy doing the dirty work.”
    DECEMBER 21, 2018

    Bah, wilderness

    Bernhardt is taking aim at the Endangered Species Act and protections for the greater sage grouse—goals of his former clients at the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the


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