Pingree Leads Inquiry to Zinke on Biased Monument Review Process
Washington, D.C.—After inadvertently released documents showed the Department of the Interior purposely redacted information in its review of National Monuments, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and other members of the House Appropriations Committee are demanding answers from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
“These deletions seem to show that the Administration was merely looking for a way to justify its ideological goals of reducing the size of these monuments to allow for increased energy development and resource extraction in National Monuments,” the Members wrote in a letter sent today to Secretary Zinke. “Rather than being a full, unbiased accounting of the impact of National Monuments, this review cherry-picked data to build the Administration’s case and ignored information that would undercut it. Again, we would argue that such a review, which was clearly intended to be biased, was a waste of taxpayer dollars and the valuable time of Interior Department officials.”
Along with Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey, the letter was signed by the entire Democratic membership of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment—Pingree and Representatives Betty McCollum, Derek Kilmer, and Marcy Kaptur.
An executive order by President Trump led the Department of Interior to review 27 National Monuments that had been designated over the previous 21 years, including Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine. As a result of the review, the Administration drastically reduced the size of two monuments, opening up one of those to mining and others to increased timber harvesting, energy development, and commercial fishing.
Internal Department of Interior emails that were inadvertently released in a FOIA request show that officials intentionally redacted information from the review that would harm the Administration’s argument of shrinking monuments and opening them up to increased commercial activity. These pieces of information include estimates of increased tourism revenue, impacts on fishing operations, and reports about reduced crime and vandalism rates at monuments.
Pingree is a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment, which oversees funding for the Department of Interior. She was openly critical of the Administration’s review process, including its lack of transparency and its intention of weakening the conservation of some of the country’s most prized natural areas.
Full letter text below. A pdf is online here.
Dear Secretary Zinke,
We are writing to you today as Members of the House Appropriations Committee to inquire about recent reports that your department dismissed certain evidence that contradicted the Administration’s position on National Monument Designations. This issue is of great concern to us and we are asking for more information about this potentially drastic abuse within the review process in the Executive Branch.
As you know, your Department was instructed to review 27 national monuments established over a period of 21 years. Many of us argued at that time that this was a waste of taxpayer dollars and an overreach of power, given that these monuments had been designated after years of community input and careful review. The inadvertently released documents we have just seen have confirmed our concerns that taxpayer resources were being used for partisan ends.
It has been reported that many pieces of data that did not build a case of support for the Administration’s effort to restrict or revise monuments were deleted from the review. Internal communications show a clear intention to disregard information that would be supportive of maintaining current boundaries such as estimates of increased tourism revenue, impacts on fishing operators, and reports about reduced crime and vandalism rates at monuments that were gathered.
These deletions seem to show that the Administration was merely looking for a way to justify its ideological goals of reducing the size of these monuments to allow for increased energy development and resource extraction in National Monuments. Rather than being a full, unbiased accounting of the impact of National Monuments, this review cherrypicked data to build the Administration’s case and ignored information that would undercut it. Again, we would argue that such a review, which was clearly intended to be biased, was a waste of taxpayer dollars and the valuable time of Interior Department officials.
Although there is some discussion about the information that was redacted as part of the FOIA request on the agency, that is not the subject of our inquiry today. We are focused on the actual review process itself and what your Department did, or did not do, during the process to ensure that a “fair and balanced” review was taking place.
For these reasons, we would like to hear directly from you about what happened. In particular we would like to know the process used to gather information, how information was chosen for inclusion in the report, the basis for information to be “ignored” or “deleted,” and how the Administration plans to move forward in light of this newly public information.
Rather than rely on reports in the press, we would like these answers from you. We look forward to your quick response to this issue.