[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ASHINGTON— The Trump administration’s Department of the Interior has taken down environmental review websites for many of its key agencies, a step that violates its own policies for government shutdowns and stymies public involvement in decisions like fossil fuel leasing and wildlife protections. Among the sites abruptly taken down are those that provide planning information and ways for the public to comment on key decisions.
“The Trump administration is cynically using the government shutdown as a flimsy pretense for locking the public out of environmental decisions,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This goes right along with Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt’s pattern of denying public involvement to help fossil fuel companies pillage our public lands.”
The Bureau of Land Management’s environmental planning webpage was blocked as early as Monday. As of midday Wednesday, environmental-planning websites for the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were still blocked, but the Bureau of Land Management’s site had been reactivated. (But, is once again down)
Public involvement is one of the hallmarks of environmental policy in the United States. Interior agencies such as the National Park Service, BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service have websites through which the public can review and provide comment on proposed agency actions and policies. These websites have been taken down and replaced with a message referencing the government shutdown, despite an Interior policy document that explicitly instructs agencies to leave their websites up during shutdowns.
Interior’s agencies avoiding public involvement in policy-making has been a recurring theme during the Trump administration, but such moves have been struck down by the courts. In Western Watersheds v. Zinke, the Center and allies won a preliminary injunction against a BLM policy that a federal judge in Idaho ruled substantially and unlawfully impeded public participation in environmental review.
There are numerous public comment or administrative protest periods that are ongoing right now, including for the BLM’s controversial greater sage grouse “land-use plan amendment revisions” and several oil and gas lease sales.
“This is just another move by Interior to shut the public out of policy-making in order to promote the fossil fuel industry,” said McKinnon. “Bernhardt is an oil-industry lobbyist doing the bidding of Trump’s campaign donors. We’ll continue to fight against this administration’s attacks on our public lands and wildlife.”
The Center has submitted a letter to Deputy Secretary Bernhardt requesting a blanket extension on any environmental review comment or protest period for a duration as long as the government shutdown lasts.
Source: Center for Biological Diversity