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WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Department of the Interior today for failing to provide public records on Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt’s communications and schedules.
These records could shed light on the Trump administration’s abrupt decision to allow an enormous California groundwater-mining scheme, Cadiz, Inc., to move forward without environmental review.
Today’s lawsuit also seeks the communications and schedules of Todd Willens, assistant deputy secretary, who is believed to oversee endangered species, water management and energy under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Willens previously worked for Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and former Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), two of the most anti-endangered species members of Congress.
“If Trump’s Interior Department had nothing to hide on the Cadiz water-mining scheme, it would quickly turn over these public records,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center. “We need to know whether Zinke and his aides are holding secret meetings with political allies willing to destroy public lands and wildlife for short-term profits.”
The Center has filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests over the past year for information about the Cadiz project, as well as for the schedules and communications of Bernhardt and Willens. Neither the Interior Department nor the Bureau of Land Management has complied with the requests.
“Zinke has turned the Department of the Interior into the Department of Special Interests,” said Snape. “The public has every right to know who his top lieutenants are meeting with, especially when it comes to policies that will have disastrous consequences for our public lands and climate.”
Late last year the Trump administration reversed two Obama-era decisions and paved the way for the Cadiz project, which would pump 16 billion gallons of water a year from the fragile desert aquifer. Water would be sent through a 43-mile pipeline across Mojave Trails National Monument to feed sprawling new developments in Southern California.
Zinke is the subject of many travel and scheduling controversies, including vacation jaunts abroad with a paid security detail, corporate-funded trips and events, and $139,000 office doors at Interior’s D.C. headquarters.
Source: Center for Biological Diversity