GREENWIRE: On secretary’s first day, Chaffetz demands documents

E&E News Greenwire

Published: March 2, 2017
New Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke got a housewarming gift from Congress on his first day on the job yesterday: a request for official documents related to issues ranging from the designation of national monuments to complaints against Bureau of Land Management law enforcement agents for alleged bullying.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent Zinke a letter including document and record requests on seven matters it submitted to Interior Department officials between October 2015 and December 2016 and is still waiting for feedback on.

“The committee currently has certain pending requests for documents and information with the Department of the Interior. As the department transitions to new leadership, I reiterate these requests here,” wrote Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

The panel wants information related to several issues that cropped up during the previous administration, including:

  • Allegations from state officials in Nevada and Utah that some BLM law enforcement officers are intimidating and harassing residents and tourists, as well as the controversy stemming from extravagant budget requests — including 24-hour access to ice cream — to manage the 2015 Burning Man event.
  • A March 2015 BLM rule, now tied up in court, that would expand federal oversight of hydraulic fracturing in several Western states.
  • The Obama administration’s use of the Antiquities Act to designate more national monuments, including 1.8 million acres of land in California, Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada.
  • BLM’s decisionmaking process as it related to the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project in California.

The Senate confirmed Zinke yesterday in a 68-31 bipartisan vote (Greenwire, March 1). He now leads a department of 70,000 employees that oversees 20 percent of U.S. lands. The federal government’s role in managing those lands vis-à-vis states’ authority will be a central issue facing the new secretary.

Interior’s Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs will review yesterday’s congressional request from the House committee, department spokeswoman Heather Swift said today.

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