Congressman says Trump administration’s monuments review is a ‘sham’

The long-awaited monument review lands with a whimper.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he’s recommending that none of 27 national monuments carved from wilderness and ocean and under review by the Trump administration be eliminated, including Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he’s recommending that none of 27 national monuments carved from wilderness and ocean and under review by the Trump administration be eliminated, including Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has reportedly sent his findings and recommendations from his 120-day review of national monuments to President Donald Trump — and while the Associated Press is reporting that Zinke will recommend “changes” to a “handful” of national monuments, no concrete recommendations have been made public.

In a press release issued on Thursday afternoon, the Department of the Interior said that the review was “initiated by President Trump in order to restore trust” in the process of monument designation, and to “give local residents and stakeholders a voice.” Still, the summary report — made public on the agency’s website — does not detail what changes, if any, Zinke has recommended for more than 20 national monuments still under review, which cumulatively cover millions of acres of the United States.

In an email to ThinkProgress, an Interior spokesperson said only that the report has been sent to the president, and directed further questions about future actions based on the report to the White House. The department did not respond to ThinkProgress’ inquiry as to why specific recommendations were not included in the published summary.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, reportedly said on a conference call that the White House would need “time to digest” the review before making it public.

Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV), a vocal proponent of maintaining existing national monument designations, criticized the administration for its lack of transparency regarding the report’s findings. Kihuen had raised issue with Zinke’s review process in the past, calling it “highly disrespectful” for the secretary to not respond to a letter inquiring about the review’s methodology.

It’s obviously very, very disappointing in the lack of specificity and transparency from Secretary Zinke,” Kihuen told ThinkProgress. “This whole process has been a sham. There hasn’t been transparency, there hasn’t been any specifics, and to be quite honest, we haven’t seen the secretary listen to the American people.”

Other legislators have also expressed concern over the review’s lack of transparency. In a report issued earlier this week by the House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), the representative noted that Secretary Zinke had not responded to a letter sent in June asking for details about which groups the secretary was meeting with in relation to the review.

The report also noted that public polling shows overwhelming support for maintaining existing national monument designations. According to the report, support for weakening national monuments was highest in Utah, where 30 percent of respondents agreed that monuments should be shrunk or rescinded (60 percent opposed).

The Interior Department’s published summary report acknowledges that the overwhelming majority of comments received during the public comment period of the review supported either maintaining current monument designations, though the summary credits “a well orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations.” It then goes on to explain that opponents of maintaining national monument designations were most often “local residents associated with industries such as grazing, timber production, mining, hunting and fishing, and motorized recreation.”

Zinke received criticism from environmental, conservation, and indigenous groups during the review for seemingly favoring industry perspective over local voices. According to a report from the Washington Post, Zinke’s schedule during his first two months as secretary revealed a number of meetings with fossil fuel industry executives, while showing few meetings with environmental or conservation groups.

During the 120-day review, Zinke visited eight of the 27 national monuments under review, traveling to six states. On Thursday, when the review was sent to the White House, Zinke was in his home state of Montana, visiting a wildfire command with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.