Nearly a year after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the agency that manages 246 million acres and that is critical to the functioning of the American West still has no permanent leadership. In November, Brian Steed, the former chief of staff for Utah State Rep. Chris Stewart, R, became the third person in 11 months to temporarily take on the duties of Bureau of Land Management acting director. One potential pick for the director job is Karen Budd-Falen — a long-time antagonist of the bureau. In other administrations, her background would make her an unlikely pick. In the Trump administration, she’s a contender.
In late August, Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke submitted a report detailing the results of his review of 27 national monuments to the White House. Zinke’s suggestions, kept secret at the time, were recently made public by the Washington Post. The report calls for boundary changes at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah, Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada, and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which straddles the border between Oregon and California; and looser restrictions on activities at Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande Del Norte National Monuments, both in New Mexico. It also proposes trims or changes to allowed activities at three marine monuments and one monument in Maine. This story originally appeared on High Country News and is reprinted with permission. Monuments are intended to protect significant landmarks, structures, or “objects of historic or scientific interest” on federal land under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
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.
U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry traveled to New Mexico last week, visiting Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The Los Alamos Daily Post reported the Perry, former governor of Texas, “praised the national labs as a whole and said every country should have at least one lab like the ones we have in the United States.”
Perry also said he was an “extension of the administration” when it comes to climate change: “You’re going to see new ways … to use highly untechnical terms, we’re going to continue to throw some jello at the walls in different places and in different ways because from time to time, you’ll find answers to things you had no idea you were going to find solutions to,” he said. Perry praised nuclear power, did not discount the possibility of expanded nuclear weapon production and said he was surprised by how little people know about the Energy Department. In southern New Mexico, Perry toured the Energy Department’s Carlsbad Field Office and the underground nuclear waste repository.