Secretary Zinke’s Magic-8-Ball approach to policy making

More than 1 million Americans say leave national monuments alone, Zinke says “try again”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visits southern Utah to review eliminating Bears Ears National Monument | DOI Flickr

Since Ryan Zinke was sworn in as Secretary of the Interior he has consistently proclaimed his affection for public input in managing our public lands. However, a review of Zinke’s rhetoric and actions shows he is merely paying lip service to comments from the American people as he works to gut protections for some of our most spectacular places.

One need look no further than the Interior Department’s review of the Bears Ears National Monument, undertaken as directed by an anti-monument executive order by President Trump. It’s been clear from day one that Secretary Zinke had his mind made up: the administration planned to eliminate wide swaths of Bears Ears National Monument. To provide political cover for this unprecedented and illegal decision, Secretary Zinke sought public input to hear directly from the American people.

Unfortunately for Secretary Zinke, America spoke up loud and clear — more than 1 million Americans submitted comments, 99 percent of which supported national monuments and urged Secretary Zinke to leave them intact. An analysis of comments by self-identified Utahns found they supported leaving national monuments alone by nearly a 9-to-1 margin.

Undeterred, the secretary is re-opening the public comment period, treating comments like a Magic 8 Ball. He didn’t get the answer he wanted the first time, so he’s shaking it again and hoping for a different response.

Here’s a brief look at Secretary Zinke’s rhetoric around public comments — and his actions to undermine the national monument comment period his agency is administering.

APRIL: Secretary Zinke says he wants to hear your voice

On April 25, when President Trump signed the national monuments executive order, Secretary Zinke announced a public comment period, saying:

“…the policy is consistent with the President’s promise to give Americans a voice and make sure their voices are heard.”
President Trump and Secretary Zinke announce the National Monuments Executive Order while standing beneath a photograph of Teddy Roosevelt | DOI Flickr

MAY: After 80 years of efforts to protect Bears Ears National Monument, public will only have 15 days to comment

On May 5, Zinke said he would give the public just 15 days — an unusually short window — to comment on Bears Ears National Monument. Most actions by government agencies allow for 60 or 90 day public comment periods. The comment period ran from May 12 through May 26.

The Department of the Interior today announced the first ever formal public comment period for members of the public to officially weigh in on monument designations under the Antiquities Act of 1906…
…Written comments relating to the Bears Ears National Monument must be submitted within 15 days of publication of that notice. Written comments relating to all other designations subject to Executive Order 13792 must be submitted within 60 days of that date.

MAY: Zinke ignores senator’s request for longer comment period, particularly for tribal constituents with limited internet access

On May 10, Senator Martin Heinrich (NM) wrote a letter to Ryan Zinke requesting he extend the comment period and hold public meetings, especially for tribal constituents, the majority of whom are without internet.

“Across vast reaches of the Navajo Nation, even cell service is hard to come by. Moreover, cultural and historical practices bias a written comment process against those who come from an oral tradition. In many Native communities, traditional elders communicate solely in their native language and decisions on important issues are made only after extensive discussions. A respectful engagement process with tribal communities would include opportunities for public discussion and oral comment. Access to regulations.gov is unequal and heavily weighted toward urban, non-Native communities — those least affected by the decision of whether to shrink or repeal the Bears Ears National Monument.” — Sen. Heinrich

Zinke ignored Senator Heinrich’s request to extend the comment period, then seemingly went on to ignore the contents of the hundreds of thousands of public comments he received.

JUNE: Zinke disregards overwhelming public support for national monuments, recommends eliminating parts of Bears Ears National Monument, cynically moves to reopen comment period

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke | DOI Flickr

Despite the incredibly short length of the comment period, more than 1 million Americans wrote to Secretary Zinke asking him to leave national monuments alone. But it’s clear Secretary Zinke doesn’t intend to listen.

In a 45-day interim report, he’s already recommended President Trump eliminate huge swaths of Bears Ears National Monument. And in a surprise twist, Secretary Zinke also extended the comment period to July 10. Reopening the comment period a full two weeks after it already closed is nothing more than a cynical effort asking for someone, anyone, to push for eliminating Bears Ears National Monument.

It seems Secretary Zinke will keep shaking the Magic 8 Ball until he gets the answer he wants — wipe national monuments off the map.

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