The Trump administration gave presents to oil and gas companies; taxpayers got a lump of coal
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke kept himself busy while while you were on vacation
It’s no secret that politicians love to use holiday breaks to bury bad news. The “Friday news dump” is a tradition that even earned its own episode of The West Wing 18 years ago. But over the past two weeks, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke dumped a staggering number of pieces of trash on the American people.
Unsurprisingly, many of the actions Secretary Zinke and the Interior Department took over the holidays were a gift to oil, gas, coal, and mining companies around the globe. Here’s what Ryan Zinke hoped you wouldn’t notice:
1) He repealed fracking regulations that protected public lands
The 2015 rule would have required companies to reveal the chemicals they use in the fluids pumped into the ground at fracking sites on public land — something that was adamantly opposed by the oil and gas industry. The Interior Department quietly rescinded the rule on the final business day of 2017.
2) He stopped rules that were supposed to prevent another Deepwater Horizon disaster
Interior’s well-control rule was designed to stop the kinds of undersea blowouts that led to the deadly explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Interior Secretary Zinke’s new rule would eliminate independent inspections of safety equipment, something that a bipartisan commission recommended in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill. Zinke is instead going back to the self-regulation that led to the Gulf disaster.
3) He put oil drilling ahead of an imperiled bird
On the final Friday of the year, the Bureau of Land Management ordered field offices across the West to stop taking the habitat of the imperiled sage-grouse into account when offering up oil and gas parcels to lease. The move increases the likelihood that the sage-grouse will be listed as an endangered species, something that ranchers, conservationists, and state officials across the west have tried to avoid.
4) He got caught using wildfire preparedness funds to pay for his helicopter flights
Zinke’s press secretary arranged a $39,000 photo-op helicopter tour of Nevada in July, which was paid for by the National Interagency Fire Center — even though Zinke didn’t visit or see any wildfires that day. As soon as the flight got caught by Newsweek, Interior said it would pay for the helicopter ride from “a more appropriate account.”
5) He resurrected copper and nickel mining along Minnesota’s Boundary Waters
In a Friday-before-Christmas legal dump, the Interior Department suddenly changed its mind about renewing leases for a copper and nickel mine adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. The mine is owned by a Chilean billionaire who rents a Washington, DC home to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
6) He falsely announced a large coal mine expansion in Montana
Just before Christmas, the Interior department announced the approval of a large expansion at the Rosebud coal mine in Montana. Interior spokesperson Heather Swift, however, backpedaled after the holiday, telling the Billings Gazette that while the expansion hasn’t been approved, a draft environmental impact statement on the mine will be released to the public at some point. Swift blamed “an internal miscommunication” for the fake news.
7) He gave a pass to energy companies that kill birds
A second legal memo dumped on the Friday before Christmas revealed that the Trump administration would give a pass to energy companies that accidentally kill migratory birds. Zinke’s new interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act ruled that it only applies to the intentional killing of birds. The memo was written by Daniel Jorjani, an Interior department political appointee who is also a longtime adviser to oil billionaire Charles Koch.
8) He got sued for not releasing his travel records
After Zinke got caught spending $12,000 on a private plane after attending a dinner thrown by his biggest campaign benefactor, the Interior Department stopped releasing Zinke’s travel records. (Nothing past July has been posted on the Interior website.) The watchdog group CREW announced on New Year’s Day that it’s suing Zinke for refusing to release his travel records.
9) He refused to respond to reports a coal executive’s daughter ran his national monuments review
Just before Christmas, Huffington Post profiled Downey Magallanes, the top Zinke aide who wrote his error-riddled report to President Trump that recommended eviscerating several national monuments. Magallanes, the daughter of a former Peabody Energy executive, met with Peabody officials in June as part of the monuments review. The Interior Department did not respond to HuffPo’s questions about the apparent ethics violation.
10) He tried to pretend his disastrous Alaska oil sale never happened
After Zinke’s much-anticipated attempt to lease more than 10 million acres of land in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve brought in just seven bids, the secretary tried to double down over the holidays, announcing a “HUGE” (in all caps) new assessment that suggests an additional 8.7 billion barrels of undiscovered oil in the reserve. Zinke did not mention whether oil companies had any interest in that oil, given the high cost of drilling in Alaska, the low cost of oil, and the sensitive ecology in the Reserve.
11) He claimed his environmental record is “second only to Teddy Roosevelt”
Despite everything you just read, Zinke claimed in a press release that he has created a “conservation stewardship legacy, second only to Teddy Roosevelt” during his first year at Interior. It was a year in which Zinke launched an unprecedented attack on national monuments and attempted to double admission fees at our most popular national parks.
Unfortunately for our parks and public lands, he also assured the American people that 2017 was “just the tip of the iceberg.”