Public Lands Win In Election, Oversight Opportunity Created with New Congress

Last night, American voters made their voices heard. Protecting access to public lands and natural places were key issues in this election, as anti-public lands candidates found out all too well when they lost races all across the West.

Not only did public lands win big last night, but the new Congress provides important opportunities for members of the House of Representatives to conduct oversight into the anti-public lands actors of the Trump administration. We call on the new Congress to hold accountable Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, and other Interior political appointees whose actions have undermined the public’s trust and hurt public lands for the past two years.

Last night’s defeat puts the Trump administration and its allies in the House and Senate on notice: their attacks on public lands are not only bad policy, they are also bad politics.


Also in New Mexico, pro-public lands Senator Martin Heinrich cruised to reelection, and in his victory speech promised to keep working for New Mexico’s outdoor recreation economy. [Associated Press, 11/06/18]


Meanwhile, in San Juan County, Utah, home to Bears Ears National Monument and ground zero of Donald Trump’s unprecedented attack on public lands, monument supporters won. Earlier this year vehemently anti-Bears Ears San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally lost her re-election bid to Kenneth Maryboy, a monument supporter and member of Utah Diné Bikeyah, the Native American-led nonprofit that has worked to protect Bears Ears. Yesterday Maryboy won his seat on the San Juan County Commission unopposed. [Salt Lake Tribune, 10/25/18; Utah Diné Bikeyah, accessed 11/05/18]

Last night, Willie Grayeyes, another Bears Ears supporter and Utah Diné Bikeyah board member, won his race to win a second seat on the San Juan County Commission. In a historic win, with Grayeyes and Maryboy on the Commission, two of the three commissioners are Native American and monument supporters. [Deseret News, 11/04/18; Utah Diné Bikeyah, accessed 11/05/18]


Even though public lands won big last night, over the past two years they have suffered under the management of Donald Trump’s Interior Department. At almost every turn, Interior has made decisions that benefit special interests at the expense of the American taxpayers and public lands users. The extractive industries that Interior has the responsibility of regulating, have extraordinary access to political appointees. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has repeatedly misused Interior Department resources for personal and political gain.

The last Congress failed to fulfill their duty to conduct oversight of DOI. As a result, Secretary Zinke has largely acted with impunity, leading to at least 15 investigations by the department’s watchdog – and no meaningful reviews by Congress. Here are some of the top issues that the next Congress should review in a thorough and timely manner:

While these are just a few of the most salient instances of corruption at Interior, there are undoubtedly more. We hope that the new Congress listens to the American people and investigates conflicts of interest and abuses of power by Interior officials and holds these public servants entrusted with protecting America’s public lands accountable.

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