Zinke leaves unfinished business at the Interior Department

On the second day of 2019, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tweeted out his resignation letter to President Donald Trump. After less than two years in office, he claimed to have “restored public lands ‘for the benefit & enjoyment of the people,’ improved public access & shall never be held hostage again for our energy needs.”

That appears to be Zinke’s view of the legacy his abbreviated tenure will leave on the Interior Department’s more than 500 million acres of land and roughly 70,000 employees. Critics might interpret his garbled syntax as a confession: that he turned over public land to industry — pushing oil and gas leases in sensitive habitat, rescinding environmental protections and shrinking national monuments. But what, really, did Zinke accomplish? This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission.

A new structure for the Interior Department takes shape

Update: In an interview with the Associated Press on Feb. 23, Zinke said he is reconsidering aspects of his planned overhaul of the Interior Department. According to the report, Interior will be moving forward with a reorganization that adheres more closely to state boundaries, though some states will continue to be split. “Western Governors are gratified that the Department of Interior has responded to their previously-stated concerns and are moving towards a state boundary-oriented approach in the latest draft map of its unified regional boundaries,” said Jim Ogsbury, Executive Director of the Western Governors’ Association. The Department of Interior employs around 70,000 people and oversees a broad array of federal programs, from land management agencies like the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service to relationships with tribal nations through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Interior Department mired in investigations

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has brushed off criticism over his expensive use of private and military planes for travel, telling conservative supporters that the whole issue is just “a little B.S.”

But several watchdog agencies, congressional Democrats and legal experts believe it’s more than that. After only eight months in office, Zinke’s taxpayer-funded travel, meetings with political donors and other actions have led to several official probes. “We’ve been tracking Zinke and what he’s been doing at the Department of Interior,” says Daniel Stevens, executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Campaign for Accountability. “It led us to look into whether he’s violated any rules or laws.”

This story originally appeared at High Country News. In August, Interior’s Office of Inspector General — which investigates reports of government corruption — opened a preliminary investigation into phone calls Zinke made to Alaskan Republican Sens.

Politicos announce Latinos for Sanders group

Albuquerque progressive politicos joined an Arizona congressman in Albuquerque on Friday to announce a political group supporting presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. Former New Mexico lawmakers Eleanor Chavez and Eric Griego announced the launch of Latinos for Bernie Sanders. Also present were U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, outgoing Albuquerque City Councilor Rey Garduño and State Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque. Grijalva is known for being a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and his outspoken views on environmental and income equality issues. Grijalva used a coal mining metaphor to describe Sanders’ record in Congress.