The Trump administration has been working overtime to shrink the size of national parks and monument so they can be open to corporate purchase rather than being for public use, and a totally unsurprising report in the New York Times has memos that show that in one big case, the whole point was to get at the oil underneath.
Even before President Trump officially opened his high-profile review last spring of federal lands protected as national monuments, the Department of Interior was focused on the potential for oil and gas exploration at a protected Utah site, internal agency documents show.
The debate started as early as March 2017, when an aide to Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, asked a senior Interior Department official to consider shrinking Bears Ears National Monument in the southeastern corner of the state. Under a longstanding program in Utah, oil and natural gas deposits within the boundaries of the monument could have been used to raise revenue for public schools had the land not been under federal protection.
“Please see attached for a shapefile and pdf of a map depicting a boundary change for the southeast portion of the Bears Ears monument,” said the March 15 email from Senator Hatch’s office. Adopting this map would “resolve all known mineral conflicts,” the email said, referring to oil and gas sites on the land that the state’s public schools wanted to lease out to bolster funds.
The map that Mr. Hatch’s office provided, which was transmitted about a month before Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke publicly initiated his review of national monuments, was incorporated almost exactly into the much larger reductions President Trump announced in December, shrinking Bears Ears by 85 percent…Most of the deliberations took place behind closed doors. The internal Interior Department emails — more than 25,000 pages in total — were obtained by The New York Times after it sued the agency in federal court with the assistance of the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale University Law School. The lawsuit cited the agency’s failure to respond to an open records request in August asking for internal records related to the deliberations.
So not only did they do this to allow oil companies to get at the oil underneath, but they then tried to hide that fact by simply ignoring FOIA requests for the internal documents. This is something I know more than a bit about, having had to take the Bush administration to court to get access to the agreement it made with the EU and Antigua to settle a WTO dispute, which they absurdly denied on national security grounds when I filed the initial request.
Governments don’t like transparency and they try to hide their actions all the time. At any given time, there are probably thousands of such cases going on. They try to drag them out and make them expensive so people will give up, which doesn’t really work against a major news outlet. But I would not have gotten access to the documents I had a right to without the group Public Citizen, which volunteered to take on the case themselves and represent me all the way to the appeals court.
Just another instance of corruption, of wealthy and powerful corporations getting their way while the public is denied access to those lands.