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Trump’s Interior Department stacks environmental panel with anti-environmentalists

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Sarah Okeson
Sarah Okeson

Trump’s Interior Department stacked an advisory committee for Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah with ranchers and politicians who opposed former President Barack Obama creating the 1.35-million acres of protected land and welcomed Trump shrinking it by 85%.

Democracy Forward, a nonprofit founded in 2017, asked the Inspector General of the Interior Department to investigate whether Secretary David Bernhardt violated federal law by packing the 15-person committee with opponents of the monument.

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“The Bears Ears committee was designed to protect a treasure of the American West and stacking it with opponents of the monument could violate federal law,” said Travis Annatoyn, an attorney for Democracy Forward.

Committees are supposed to be fairly balanced and not unduly influenced by the financial interests of its members.

Under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, signed by President Richard Nixon in 1972, committees are supposed to be fairly balanced and not unduly influenced by the financial interests of its members.

But Bernhardt appointed at least three people who have financial conflicts of interest. Cattle rancher and San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams has a permit to graze his cattle on Bureau of Land Management land.

Rancher Zeb Dalton also has grazing rights. Rancher Gail Johnson’s husband, Sandy Johnson, filed paperwork to join one of the lawsuits over Bears Ears, saying restoring Bears Ears to its original size “would threaten my business and personal interests.”

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Bears Ears, named after twin peaks that look like the ears of a bear, was once the second-largest national monument in the lower 48 states. Five native American tribes urged Obama to create the monument which included about 9,000 recorded archaeological sites, including petroglyphs, woven cloth, human remains and ancient roads.

But another committee member, Jami Bayles, of Blanding, Utah, was offended by the new monument.

‘Nothing But a Punishment’

Bears Ears National Monument (BLM photo)

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“Monuments should be an honor to an area, and we feel like this one is nothing but a punishment,” Bayles said.

Judges in federal lawsuits have faulted or upheld inquiries into other committees formed by the Trump Interior Department.

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In August, federal judge Donald Malloy ruled that Trump unlawfully formed the Royalty Policy Committee, which was stacked with fossil-fuel representatives and blocked the Interior Department from using the committee’s recommendations.

Members of the now-defunct committee included Interior official Scott Angelle who gave oil and gas executives his cell phone number so they could call him directly to limit any records of contact.

Trump Contributors

In September, federal judge Alison Nathan rejected the Trump administration’s efforts to dismiss a lawsuit about the Interior Department’s trophy hunting council. That committee, the International Wildlife Conservation Council, includes four people – gun company executive Peter Horn, lawyer Chris Hudson, Arizona developer Mike Ingram and TV show personality Keith Mark – who were involved in a 2016 fundraiser advertising access to Trump for contributions of $500,000 or more.

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Former National Rifle Association lobbyist Ben Cassidy was the contact person at the Interior Department for the trophy committee. Cassidy left in July while his conduct was part of a formal ethics department probe and joined Safari Club International, a trophy hunting advocacy group with close ties to the Trump administration.

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