Environmentalists Sue for Information About Monuments Review

(CN) – Environmentalists sued the U.S. Department of Interior on Wednesday, claiming the agency has been slow to respond to requested information about an ongoing and controversial review of national monuments.

The Center for Biological Diversity says it filed two Freedom of Information Act requests, for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s communications and schedules, on April 6. A month later, the group filed a third request for records that mention any of the 27 national monuments on the chopping block or the executive order signed by President Donald Trump that started the review.

According to the group, it sought the information for the purpose of releasing it to the public. It believes the information could reveal if Zinke has been meeting with anyone with special interest in the lands before he turns in his final recommendations to Trump on Aug. 24.

But the center says Zinke’s department hasn’t responded to any of the FOIA requests – a violation of federal law that prompted the group’s legal action.

“Diminishing our natural heritage lands to benefit polluting industries is shameful and misguided,” attorney Meg Townsend said in a statement for the center. “Keeping the decision-making process a secret makes it even worse. The public has a right to know how these decisions are being made and who’s influencing this administration.”

Trump ordered Zinke to review the possibility of modifying the size and scope of national monuments established since 1996 that are over 100,000 acres. Trump hasn’t offered specifics as to the reason for the review, but his administration’s comments and policy has left many environmental groups worried.

“[The executive order] is widely expected to trigger dramatic changes in monument protections or boundaries to accommodate extractive interests like coal, oil and gas, livestock, grazing and logging,” the center says in its complaint.

During the public-comment period, the Interior Department received over 1.2 million comments ranging from support to disdain for the national monument review.

The initial list of national monuments up for review was 27, but has since dropped down to 22 after Zinke recommended no change to monuments like Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho and Arizona’s Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.

The Department of Interior oversees all federal land and national resources. Zinke, formerly a congressman from Montana, was named by Trump to head the department earlier.

The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a finding that the Interior Department violated the law and an order that it respond to the group’s requests.

Townsend and Amy Atwood represent the group.

The department did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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