Posts tagged with "Department of Interior":

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Trump’s offshore drilling plan—and his new Secretary of the Interior—are treading water

President Donald Trump’s plan to open much of the American continental shelf to oil exploration has been put on hold after a federal court recently ruled in favor of maintaining existing restrictions against drilling for oil off of the Alaska and Virginia coasts. In March, The New York Times reported that a federal judge for the United States District Court for the District of Alaska ruled against the president’s efforts to revoke an Obama-era executive order that withdrew 120 million acres of Arctic Ocean and about 3.8 million acres of Atlantic Ocean areas from oil exploration initiatives. The judge stated that Trump’s efforts to revoke the drilling ban are “unlawful” and “exceeded the president’s authority,” according to the report, and that the ban will “will remain in full force and effect unless and until revoked by Congress.” In response to the ruling, Department of Interior (DOI) officials have more or less scrapped plans that could have opened up the entirety of America’s coastline to increased oil exploration initiatives, The New York Times reported this week. Molly Block, a spokesperson for the Interior Department, told The Times, “Given the recent court decision, the [DOI] is simply evaluating all of its options to determine the best pathway to accomplish the mission entrusted to it by the President.” The ruling could be appealed to the Ninth District Circuit Court and could potentially reach the United States Supreme Court, but not for several years. It is unclear how either President’s actions will be interpreted by the court, as both Obama’s efforts to protect these areas and Trump’s push to repeal those protections are considered to have taken place according to what is considered, at best, shaky legal precedent. It is expected that the legal setback for President Trump could also precipitate further legal action from environmental groups who seek to turn back a controversial 2017 plan that shrunk the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. The ruling comes as a new Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, takes the helm of the department. Bernhardt was recently confirmed to his position after fierce opposition from Democrats amid accusations of ethics violations. Though Bernhardt took office only two weeks ago, several inquiries into the secretary’s connections to previous employers have taken shape. The DOI Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently confirmed active investigations into potential ethics violations by six senior DOI officials.
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Former oil lobbyist confirmed as new Secretary of the Interior

The United States Senate voted 56-41 this week to confirm former fossil fuel lobbyist David Bernhardt as the new Secretary of the Interior. Bernhardt previously served as the deputy to former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who resigned in late 2018 amid a firestorm of ethics scandals.

With the confirmation vote, Bernhardt assumes stewardship of over 500 million acres of federally-owned lands across the country. The New York Times reported that due to his central role in crafting policy initiatives while working as Deputy Secretary, Bernhardt’s influence is already being felt across the country. Changes at the Department of Interior during the first two years of the Trump administration include shrinking several national monuments that had been expanded under President Barack Obama, including the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, as well as allowing for oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve, the nation’s largest pristine landscape. While working under the former Interior Secretary, Bernhardt also pushed for increased oil exploration activities off the nation’s coasts. A plan for how and where to develop additional fossil fuel resources off the nation’s coasts is due next year. Bernhardt takes over at a pivotal time for the Department of Interior, which runs the Bureau of Land Management as well as the National Parks Service (NPS). According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the NPS is suffering from over $11 billion in deferred maintenance costs, a nasty backlog that was fully on display during the 2019 government shutdown, when raw sewage and trash piled up across many national parks. According to the group, 18 percent of the maintenance backlog amount relates to the NPS’s building stock, which is in serious disrepair. NPS roads and water treatment facilities are also awaiting much-needed upgrades. Bernhardt himself has been plagued by ethics investigations and questions regarding his ties to former lobbying clients, but the concerns were not enough to halt his confirmation. Prior to his role in the Trump administration, Bernhardt served as Solicitor of the Department of Interior for President George W. Bush.
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Editorial: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s tenure was a national disgrace

President Donald Trump announced last week that Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke would be resigning at the end of 2018. And while even ardent supporters are finding it increasingly difficult to praise any move by the current administration, the end of Secretary Zinke’s corruption-riddled tenure at the helm of the Department of Interior is, perhaps, cause for brief, though bittersweet, celebration. America—and the world—is better off with Zinke out of office. Why? For one, over the two short years Zinke has been at the helm of the Department of Interior, he has continually treated his office like a personal piggy bank by making ridiculous purchases and indulging in a penchant for unnecessary private jet travel, all at taxpayer expense. Worse by a mile, however, is the fact that Zinke has also been hell-bent on using his position to perpetuate environmental destruction. Tasked with overseeing and maintaining roughly one-quarter of America’s land area, Zinke has instead transformed the Bureau of Land Management into a bargain bin thrift store open exclusively for the country’s grifting oil and mineral moguls. Under Trump’s direction, Zinke has scrapped Obama-era regulations and opened up for exploitation formerly off-limits public lands at break-neck speed. As a result, business is booming for the world’s extraction industries in America, indigenous rights have been superseded, deadly carbon emissions are on a precipitous rise, and environmental safeguards for clean air, water, and soil have been trampled. Under Zinke, America is having a going-out-of-business sale with public lands across the country on the auction block. A few examples: In Utah, the Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments were drastically shrunk and partially sold-off; in Alaska, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve, the largest pristine landscape in the country, are being opened for oil exploration; and off the nation’s coasts, roughly 90 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf was also approved for resource extraction. All along, the plan has been to reduce environmental regulation and protections so that public lands can be mined, probed, and drilled for private profit. With global climate change reaching a new cataclysmic phase as the cost of renewable energy continues to fall, one must question why these approaches were taken at all. But as America joins Russia, Saudi Arabia, and others in a new “axis of climate evil,” the scheme becomes quite clear. To paraphrase and update a recent report from The Atlantic, cruelty—and private profit—drive many of the administration’s policy decisions. At the Department of Interior, Zinke has presided over a radical shift that has transformed the federal government into an instrument of business, stripping it of its historic role as a steward of public landscapes and, by direct extension, of the public itself. This administration’s profit-driven and deleterious impacts on our national parks and monuments have been particularly vile and will likely take generations to repair. Given ever-increasing estimates of the potential destruction that could be wrought by climate change, however, it’s unlikely whether repair will even be possible if the administration’s “America First” energy policy comes to fruition. This approach has not been without controversy, of course: Reports cite Zinke’s escalating ethics crises as a main driver for his resignation. So, although Zinke famously arrived for his first day in office on horseback, he leaves Washington running with his tail between his legs as an ascendant Democratic majority in the United States House of Representatives threatens to set its sights on one of the administration’s most blatantly corrupt individuals. The outcome proves what while it takes a supreme level of nihilistic cowardice to steal from the future only to then run from the repercussions, Trump’s administration is filled with individuals willing to do the same. Zinke’s disgraceful tenure, like those of ex-EPA head Scott Pruitt, ex-attorney general Jeff Sessions, and the current grammatically-challenged Department of Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, proves that this particular basket of deplorables was all picked from the same rotten tree. To put it simply: If you care at all, even slightly, about the need to preserve and venerate the country’s iconic landscapes, about the public’s right to access public lands, or about the freedom to breathe clean air and drink untainted water, then Zinke’s tenure should fill you with dread and disgust. Under Zinke, the Department of Interior became a middleman between gluttonous extraction industries and the federal government’s land bank, plain and simple. Pristine landscapes have been sold off, soiled, and laid waste, indigenous rights have been superseded, and America’s vast territorial legacy has turned into a get-rich-quick scheme by an administration that sees personal profit as a professional virtue. It’s sad. There’s no silver lining, either, because Zinke’s replacement will likely pick up where the now-disgraced Montana politician is leaving off.