Trump’s Department of Interior Prioritizes Extractive Industries, Systematically Disarms Environmental Protections

by Vins

Katherine Benedetto, a senior advisor for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under President Trump’s Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, “scheduled roughly twice as many meetings with mining and fossil-fuel representatives as with environmental groups, public records requests have revealed,” according to Jimmy Tobias, writing for the Guardian.Many of these meetings were followed by official decisions that benefited the private companies or trade groups in question, as in the case of Twin Metals Minnesota, a company that has long sought to build a copper and nickel mine near the famed Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota.”

At the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, his administration did not renew Twin Metals Minnesota’s lease on land connected to the BWCA, opting instead to review the necessity of mines in that protected area. In December 2017, Twin Metals Minnesota is the mining corporation that proposed the mine, and in December of 2017, they were granted access to part of the area by the Trump administration.  This directly contradicts BLM’s mission statement: “The Bureau of Land Management’s mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

This prioritization of corporate interests over environmental concerns is not an isolated incident. “Evidence suggests that [Ryan Zinke] has used his public office, and taxpayer dollars, for private gain on multiple occasions,” and he has “dutifully and actively worked to hollow out the [Department of the Interior] to make it easier for his industry sponsors to operate on public lands,” reports Joel Clement for the Guardian. George Ochenski, reporting for The Missoulian on June 11, 2018, described how Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently “reassigned” Dan Wenk, the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park to Washington, D.C.  “The real reasons for Zinke’s attack, however, have everything to do with bison, grizzly bears, wolves and science — and implementing the Trump administration’s priorities of placing special extractive interests over the nation’s rarest wildlife resources.”  Wenk, a 43-year veteran of the National Park Service, announced that he preferred to resign.  In the past Wenk had criticized the Interagency Bison Management’s contention that Yellowstone’s “carrying capacity” for bison should be capped at 3,000, and spoke out against “delisting grizzly bears or wolves from Endangered Species Act protections in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, let alone re-instating hunting them in the Park’s surrounding states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.”

The patterns under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are consistently revealed throughout the independent media.  Ben Lefebvre and Nick Juliano reporting for Politico demonstrated links between Zinke and Halliburton.  “A group funded by David Lesar, the Halliburton chairman, is planning a large commercial development on a former industrial site near the center of the Zinkes’ hometown of Whitefish, a resort area that has grown increasingly popular with wealthy tourists. The development would include a hotel and retail shops. There also would be a microbrewery — a business first proposed in 2012 by Ryan Zinke and for which he lobbied town officials for half a decade.”  Lesar, along with his wife Sheryl, donated to Zinke’s first House campaign in 2014.

While independent media consistently demonstrate links between corporate interests and changes in Department of Interior policy, corporate news sources direct the focus onto Trump himself. The New York Times published an opinion piece that opposed mining in the protected Boundary Waters, but otherwise that story did not receive significant coverage by the New York Times. The Washington Post offered similar coverage, with just one article that skimmed the surface of what is happening to the BWCA. Without directing more attention to how the government is hurting nationally protected lands by neglecting to acknowledge the biomes that are affected by mining, corporate media will not be able to fully cover the issue at hand.

Sources:

Jimmy Tobias, “Trump Official under Fire after Granting Broad Access to Mining and Oil Firms,” The Guardian, March 9, 2018.  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/09/environment-trump-oil-gas-kathleen-benedetto.

Joel Clement, “Interior Department Whistleblower: Ryan Zinke Hollowed Out the Agency,” The Guardian, November 12, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/12/ryan-zinke-interior-department-insider-opinion-oil-gas.

George Ochenski, “Zinke and Yellowstone Park Superintendent Wenk–Another Trump Tragedy,” The Missoulian, June 11, 2018, https://missoulian.com/opinion/columnists/zinke-and-yellowstone-park-superintendent-wenk-another-trump-tragedy/article_45059528-8e99-5f71-97ac-299a98f5e45a.html. (Republished as “Crackdown in Yellowstone,” CounterPunch, June 13, 2018, https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/06/13/crackdown-in-yellowstone/.)

Ben Lefebvre and Nick Juliano, “Exclusive: Zinke Linked to Real Estate Deal with Halliburton Chairman,” Politico, June 19, 2018, https://www.politico.com/story/2018/06/19/ryan-zinke-halliburton-park-whitefish-montana-647731.

Student Researchers: Abby Boglioli and Andi Voigt (Syracuse University)

Faculty Advisor: Jeff Simmons (Syracuse University)