Ryan Zinke’s Whitefish Scandal May Fade, But is More Controversy Brewing?
Despite Secretary Ryan Zinke’s ‘conservationist cowboy’ image the Department of Interior’s attacks on the public land trust is unprecedented says Public Lands Program Director at the Center for Biological Diversity, Randi Spivak
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
The Trump Administration will shrink two national monuments in Utah including the 1.3 million acre Bear Ears National Monument opening the lands for potential industry use. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, his office confirmed on Friday through a statement that Trump called the Senator to inform him of the Bears Ears decision that will also shrink Utah’s Grand Staircase Escalante is that what it’s called? Escalante National Park.
RANDI SPIVAK: Escalante, staircase is escalante.
SHARMINI PERIES: National Monument, which is thought to contain over 60 billion tons of coal. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended downsizing the Bear Ears in June, saying that the antiquities act should be used to protect the smallest area needed to cover important site. The President expects to travel to Utah to announce this trimming of the monument in December.
Now, I’m joined by Randi Spivak. She is the Public Lands Program Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. She’s joining us today from Washington DC. I thank you so much for joining us, Randi.
RANDI SPIVAK: Thank you so much for having me on.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, Randi, give us a sense of what these decisions in terms of expanding our, I guess these, let me try again. Randi, explain to us what these rollbacks in protecting public lands that are happening with the Trump Administration, and Zinke in particular.
RANDI SPIVAK: Thanks for the question. There is so much going on. Let me just say, big picture, Secretary Zinke, who has purview over half a billion acres of our public lands, and oceans, as well, may ride around in his cowboy hat and talk a very slick game about he loves public lands, but make no mistake, nobody should be fooled by Zinke. He is a great showman, and he and President Trump have just one goal, and that’s to open up our public lands to even more drilling, fracking, coal mining, and livestock raising.
So, the monuments fight is really emblematic of the bigger picture here. Just front and center right now with national monuments, so I think your viewers might remember that back in April, President Trump opened up a so-called review of over 27 monuments, starting back 20 years ago. Zinke sent in his recommendations to Trump, which he never revealed, but were made public to the press. And what President Trump just announced is that he is going to follow, that we know of, at least two of the recommendations. And that would be to dramatically shrink, reduce the size, of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante in Utah, as well as strip protections for what is left.
The impact of this is quite significant. For folks not familiar with the Antiquities Act, this is one of the oldest and most important conservation laws that we have. It was signed by President Roosevelt back in 1906, and Congress passed that law, and what that law did was give presidents the express authority to designate as national monuments lands that are already publicly owned a higher conservation status to protect objects of historic and scientific interest.
So, what does this mean? The Grand Canyon, for example. One of our most iconic national parks started out as a national monument to protect this amazing canyon. Arches. In fact, half of our national parks: Bryce, Acadia, all started out as national monuments designated by the President. The reason Congress gave the President the authority is because Congress, at the time, understood that it could not or would not pass legislation to protect individual places on public lands, and so by giving the President the authority, they acknowledged that presidents need to have this authority to move swiftly to protect some of our most magnificent and iconic places.
So, the fact that Trump is going to, we don’t know the details yet of how many acres they will shrink these two monuments, and likely others, but it’s going to be significant. And what that means is that these places that are now protected from drilling, fracking, coal mining, that they will then be open to the highest bidders from corporate polluters.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Are we seeing attacks on other national monument and public parks in the same way?
RANDI SPIVAK: We are. First, Zinke’s recommendations to Trump recommended that four national monuments be severely reduced in size. That would also be Gold Butte in Nevada, and Cascade-Siskiyou Wildlands in Oregon, with a little bit in California. And in addition to shrinking those four boundaries, the recommendations from Zinke to President Trump called for slashing protections. So whatever is left as a national monument, they also called for slashing protections on ten more, including Katahdin Woods in Maine, Oregon Mountains Desert Peaks, and the Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico. And opening up three marine monuments: the northeast Canyons and seamounts in the Atlantic, and the Pacific remote islands and Rose Atoll in the South Pacific. Those marine monuments protect wonderful marine mammals, whales, tortoises from industrial commercial fishing. So, Trump is also going after those as well.
This is an unprecedented attack on any measure. Never seen anything like this before in history.
SHARMINI PERIES: Randi, Senate recently voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas exploration, and drilling. This has been, of course, a 40 year battle, I understand. Who has been pushing for this and how quickly can this …Protections be undone, and how swiftly will they move in and start exploring in this area?
RANDI SPIVAK: This is really worrisome and the people, my dog is barking. There’s a delivery. I’m sorry.
SHARMINI PERIES: That’s okay. That’s okay.
RANDI SPIVAK: He’s kind of loud. Hold on. Sorry about that.
SHARMINI PERIES: That’s okay.
RANDI SPIVAK: I’m actually working from home today, and anyway, whatever. It’s a service man, and my husband’s back, so he’ll take care of it. Okay.
SHARMINI PERIES: No worries. No worries.
RANDI SPIVAK: Start over. By the way, I don’t know precisely how soon things can start on the Arctic Refuge.
SHARMINI PERIES: Okay, let’s just start the answer to that question again. I’ll just ask it again to get you back in the mood. Here we go.
RANDI SPIVAK: Yes. Further? Like that? Okay. Oh. Don’t do that.
SHARMINI PERIES: Okay. I’ll ask you again. Randi, Senate recently voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas exploration, and drilling. This has been, I understand, a 40 year battle, who has been, lots of people have been pushing, and trying to have this area protected. Now, how quickly might the Trump Administration move on these kinds of protected lands?
RANDI SPIVAK: They can move pretty quickly once a bill is put on his desk to sign, but I guarantee you there will be litigation against doing so. By the way, people should know that Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska and Representative Don Young in the House from Alaska are the major pushers behind this initiative, as well as oil and gas companies, so I think the Alaska delegation is clearly looking to President Trump to do their bidding for so many iconic lands in Alaska. Not just the refuge. But this would be an unmistakable tragedy, to get at very, oil and gas, in terms of just a couple of years, the trade-off for that, to open up the refuge, which is home to iconic wildlife, not to mention the climate/global warming implications of getting us deeper and deeper in the hole, in terms of locking us into more fossil fuel production is just unthinkable.
SHARMINI PERIES: Yeah. Speaking of more fossil fuel production, the Interior Department also manages the offshore public territories, and they recently announced a massive expansion of offshore drilling, including the Gulf of Mexico, where the BP disaster had occurred. Give us a sense of what this might do. Not only are they opening this up. Also, regulation is disappearing before our eyes as well.
RANDI SPIVAK: So, basically a lot of what Trump is doing right now is undoing what President Obama did, so the Gulf drilling, they would auction off. Open up to auction for drilling 70 million acres off the coast in the Gulf. And companies like BP, Shell, those are the ones who could then bid on the contracts, and our future would be entrusted to them. There’s no way we can trust these companies.
BP, after the BP oil spill, one of the greatest disasters in American history, why would we trust our waters, marine life, and our climate to these companies? That’s basically what Trump is proposing that we do. Instead of opening up more oceans and our public lands to fossil fuel drilling, we need to end new expansion of fossil fuels if we want to avoid climate disaster, and really ramp up renewable energy.
SHARMINI PERIES: And Randi, of course, all of this is being done under the auspices of creating jobs, and we know that the fossil fuel industry obviously needs to make a just transition into clean jobs and clean economy, and try to train people in these fossil fuel industries to take up jobs that are safer for them and safer for the environment. How justified is this argument on the part of the Trump Administration?
RANDI SPIVAK: It’s completely unjustified. I mean, let’s face it. There are more jobs in renewable energy that could be had that are outpacing the oil and gas industry. Not only that, when we look to the future, we want jobs that make our environment cleaner and safer. With fossil fuel drilling jobs, we also get an increase in childhood asthma. And communities that live right next to fracking sites, we know that there are tremendous health impacts. So what we need are not more jobs in an energy sector that is dirty and will take us backwards and actually harm our health and future prospects, but jobs in clean energy sector. And we could lead the world in that technology. It’s that Trump is dragging us back, so don’t buy into the industry’s arguments about jobs. We can do it a lot better, and a lot more jobs, on the renewable front.
Trump’s portraying this whole energy not only as energy, sorry…And Trump is portraying all of this rolling back of safety regulations and environmental regulations in the name of energy dominance. And, make no mistake, he just opened up … We just got another report which says that after reviews of what each federal agency sees as a burden to the energy industry for more fracking, drilling, and mining. How about the burden to the people on the planet? How about the burden to our health and our safe climate future. Trump is only looking at things through the narrow, narrow lens of corporate profit.
SHARMINI PERIES: Randi, I thank you so much for joining us and enlightening us about the implications of all of this to our environment and health. I thank you for the work you’re doing and thank you for joining us today.
RANDI SPIVAK: Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.