After over two months of failing to fulfill Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, Western Values Project (WVP) was forced to file suit seeking access to public documents that may show additional coordination between oil and gas lobbyist groups and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s changes to sage-grouse management plans.
View the complaint here.
“It’s been very clear that Secretary Zinke has been taking orders from special interests and lobbyists since being confirmed to his post, and his sage-grouse mandates are nothing short of the oil and gas industry’s wish list. It’s critical that the public, stakeholders, and communities affected by the proposed rollback of public land protections have access to public documents that were the basis for these changes,” said Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project. “Stonewalling the release of essential information and making decisions behind closed doors is not in the public’s interest. Unfortunately, secrecy appears to be standard operating procedure for Secretary Zinke.”
The FOIA requested public correspondence between Interior officials, the sage-grouse review team and oil and gas lobbyist groups. Analysis of a memo by Western Energy Alliance, an oil and gas lobbyist association, found that Secretary Zinke’s handpicked review team adopted 13 of the 15 recommendations. A side-by-side comparison, available here, highlights the coordination.
Western governors have been critical of Secretary Zinke’s review process and recommendations, which have ignored input from stakeholders, community members, and officials. Montana Senator Jon Tester recently sent a letter demanding that the acting Bureau of Land Management (BLM) director extend the public comment period from 45 days to 90 days. The original 10 state management plans took nearly a decade of work to develop and implement.
The BLM already announced the reversal of protections for 10 million acres of the most important sage-grouse habitat in six Western states by lifting mining restrictions. Further degradation of important sagebrush habitat could risk an endangered species listing, something the cooperative effort sought to avoid. A report released by WVP found that sagebrush habitat supports $1 billion in outdoor recreation economic activity, including camping, hiking and hunting.