August 15, 2017

Deadline looms on Zinke’s National Monument recommendations

U.S. Department of the Interior

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke taking in a view of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

New Mexico may learn next week if the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument will be reduced in size by the U.S. Interior Department.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been working toward an August 24 deadline to make his recommendations to President Donald Trump. Monument designations can work against increased energy development on public lands, which runs counter to a key Trump administration goal.

Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project, thinks the monument review is the first step in a broader push for more drilling on public lands that will bypass what local residents want.

“Really, all of these monuments that we’re talking about are places that have economies that have built up around them, that have communities that support them and want them,” he explains. “And what Secretary Zinke and President Trump are doing is listening to a really narrow section of Washington insiders, and the rest of us are going to pay the price for it.”

A recent New York Times report predicted that most of the two dozen monuments under review will be left intact, but the Organ Mountains is among the handful under significant scrutiny.

The Western Values Project has launched a website called ‘Department of Influence,’ to track the relationships between Trump administration appointees at the Interior Department and corporate special interests.

Despite what Secretary Zinke says about being a “Teddy Roosevelt conservationist,” Saeger says only a small number of his appointees come from conservation or outdoor recreation backgrounds.

“I think that there’s dissonance between what Secretary Zinke wants people to believe and what he’s doing,” he says. “Virtually everyone who he has brought into the Department of the Interior comes from a corporate special-interest background.”

The Trump administration argues that the nation’s energy independence will pivot on increased energy development on the 650 million acres of federal land located mostly in the West – almost 27 million acres in New Mexico.