As the nation reels from violent protests that left one person dead and 19 others injured in Charlottesville, Virginia, a trial of Cliven Bundy’s armed supporters in Nevada is raising thorny issues around the threat of violence and its relationship to free speech. Defendants in the first of three Bunkerville trials, which wrapped up this week, have described their actions as being protected by the First and Second Amendments to the Constitution. But prosecutors say the trial is about men who used the threat of violence to defy law enforcement, and that the law does not protect people who intimidate, threaten or assault others. During the six-week trial of Eric Parker, Scott Drexler, Steven Stewart and Ricky Lovelien, the prosecutors and defense team painted starkly different pictures of the events of April 12, 2014, when armed supporters of the recalcitrant rancher Cliven Bundy stopped the Bureau of Land Management from seizing cattle grazing illegally in southern Nevada. The defense characterized the Bunkerville standoff as a peaceful protest in which no one was hurt: Bundy supporters didn’t actually use the rifles they carried, but had them in case the BLM or National Park Service opened fire.
The Interior Department has finished a sweeping review of 98 West-wide sage grouse management plans, part of a broader effort to examine what President Donald Trump deems potential barriers to energy extraction on federal public lands. The review, which took place across the 10 Western states with existing sage grouse plans, ended with a contentious report filed to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last week. A panel of federal officials authored the report, which was released to the public on Monday. The report suggests scaling back protections for the imperiled bird, in an effort to give states (and likely industry) more flexibility. Some governors and industry groups say the recommendations open the door to more development.
No president has ever abolished a national monument, and it has been more than 50 years since a president shrank one. Nor has Congress revoked any significant monuments. The high regard given these special places is part of what makes President Donald Trump’s order to review all large monuments designated since 1996 so extraordinary. Courts have never decided whether a president has the legal authority to change or undo a designated monument, and now this uncertainty has sparked a clash of legal titans. A multitude of legal experts — including 121 law professors — argue that presidents lack the power to alter or revoke monuments.
On July 20, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke at a closed-door meeting of conservative state legislators and lobbyists, raising questions about his stated goals of transparency in federal government. Zinke, a former Montana congressman, spoke in Denver at the annual meeting for the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry organization backed by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil and devoted to “limited government, free markets and federalism.”
ALEC, whose initiatives include a push for state control over federal lands, provides model bills for state legislatures and influences bills going through Congress. Because of the group’s funding sources and its interest in states holding public lands, conservationists see Zinke’s association with the group as problematic. Throughout his congressional confirmation process for the Department of Interior position, and in the early months of his job, Zinke has reiterated that he does not favor land transfers. “The things that Zinke has claimed he stood for, in terms of public lands, ALEC are the ones driving against that all these years,” says Aaron Weiss, media director at the Center for Western Priorities.
As the Animas River spill continues to get national attention, New Mexico Political Report reached out to two reporters for an on-the-ground look at the disaster. It started with a breach of the Gold King Mine by a team working for the Environmental Protection Agency, sending a plume of orange pollution down the river and eventually into three states and through the Navajo Nation. Jonathan Thompson is a senior editor with High Country News and he previously owned and edited the Silverton Standard & The Miner and wrote about the Animas River spill. Tristan Ahtone is a freelance journalist who reported on the spill’s effects on the Navajo Nation for Al Jazeera America. The two spoke to New Mexico Political Report over the phone on Thursday afternoon. “There’s a lot of heartbreak and just kind of sadness around it by sure,” Thompson, who lives in Durango, Colo., said.
The Animas River spill, or the Gold King Mine spill depending on your preference, is one of the more high profile environmental disasters in recent southwestern United States history. Yesterday, New Mexico Political Report wrote about six things that you should know about the spill. However, the news continues to change and adapt, so here is the latest on what has happened with the spill. Associated Press: Spill prompts New Mexico to declare emergency: The Associated Press reports that New Mexico was the latest to declare an emergency on Monday. The state of Colorado also declared a state of emergency on Monday.Previously, La Plata County and the City of Durango in Colorado as well as San Juan County in New Mexico and the Navajo Nation had declared states of emergency because of the spill. Farmington Daily-Times: Gold mine’s toxic plume extends to Utah: Utah could easily be next, as the plume of pollution has now reached Utah.