Interior Department thanks the Koch Brothers for praising Ryan Zinke’s park-killing report

Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Charles Koch, David Koch

When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sent the White House a secret report that reportedly recommends erasing large swaths of four or more national monuments, the reaction was, understandably, swift and harsh.

But not at the Department of the Interior.

Following the lead of a White House in which the president is given a folder of only positive news clips every day, the Interior Department sent out a press release that shows just how far the department had to go to find praise for Secretary Zinke’s secret plan.

Department of the Interior press release

Most egregious in the department’s roundup of “news” clips are press releases from two Koch-funded groups, Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Tax Reform.

The Koch brothers’ interest in shrinking or eliminating national monuments is understandable — Koch Industries has long eyed uranium deposits near the rim of the Grand Canyon, and Koch Carbon exists to trade, transport, and store coal and other extractive products. Timber and paper giant Georgia-Pacific is also a Koch company.

Should Secretary Zinke succeed in shrinking monuments, the Koch brothers would be in a strong position to profit from the newly-available oil, gas, timber, and coal. It’s no wonder Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist looks forward “to working with Secretary Zinke and President Trump” to erase monument acreage, and that Americans for Prosperity thinks that protecting sacred tribal sites like Bears Ears is “needlessly encroaching on local economic use.”

The rest of Interior’s back-patting press release isn’t much better. The release misidentifies an Associated Press news summary as a Washington Post article, and misrepresents op-ed columns posted by the Washington Times and Las Cruces Sun-News as editorials representing the papers’ opinion. Several other quotes from news articles are also incorrectly labeled as editorials.

The best Interior could do in finding positive words for Zinke’s report was an out-of-context quote from a Waco Tribune-Herald editorial that actually begins by saying, “we praise Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s reported decision to preserve those national monuments whose designations suddenly appeared in doubt,” while acknowledging “Native American tribes that fought hard to get Obama to designate Bears Ears National Monument are braced to battle any effort to shrink it.”

Bears Ears National Monument | Jonathan Bailey/Archaeology Southwest

It’s understandable that the Department of the Interior wants to put a glossy sheen on a very public process that has ended with more of a whimper than a bang — especially after receiving millions of comments overwhelmingly in favor of letting our national monuments stand. We certainly don’t expect the Interior press office would send out a press release filled with accurate editorial quotes like this one from the LA Times:

“…the president should make Zinke’s report public, and then, assuming it cuts back protections for important, sensitive, majestic, historic, one-of-a-kind areas of vast open space, throw it in the recycling bin.”

Likewise, it would be surprising if Secretary Zinke acknowledged members of Congress like Senator Dianne Feinstein, who said:

“A proposal to strip protections from public lands should be made public immediately.”

But at the very least, if Secretary Zinke is reading a folder full of representative responses to his secret report, he’ll know that real praise will only come when he acknowledges the true way to follow in Teddy Roosevelt’s footsteps is to protect places like Bears Ears, not wipe them from the map.