This past week the occupier of the Oval Office astounded the political world and the American public when he had one of his highest-ranking appointees, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, contact Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, US Senators from the state of Alaska, to threaten them and the people of Alaska, due to Murkowski having dared to offend the chief executive by voting no to beginning “debate” on the repub health care proposal in the Senate. As Murkowski is not up for re-election until 2022 and Sullivan until 2020, direct threats to them alone were clearly insufficient, so the Interior Dept. hit man threatened a denial or curtailment of administration support for projects that support the economic growth of and energy and employment development in Alaska. Thus, it was a threat to the citizens of a sovereign US state.
Not one to be intimidated, Sen. Murkowsk stuck to her guns, and her values, and was one of three repubs to vote no on the actual health care destruction bill, two days later.
But this is par for the course for Zinke, who is in the process of sticking to the business of the Department of the Interior, and gop values, which means the end of the National Parks
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System as we know it. Previously kept pristine for the use and enjoyment of millions of visitors per year, and for future generations, our National Parks and Monuments are now parcels of undeveloped land over which it is now the business of the Interior Dept. to turn over to developers and the fossil fuel industry, to built developments, mine the lands, pollute the rivers and foul the air, for the sole, singular and ultimate goal of CORPORATE PROFIT and the “trickle-down” of income to the 1%.
Since Zinke first arrived in Washington to fanfare reminiscent of that of the royal presidency of richard nixon, in fact showing up to his first day at work on horseback, he’s made a show of of walking, if not riding, through one National Park after another. He’s compared himself to Teddy Roosevelt, the first true Progressive to hold a position of governmental power and champion of conservation, who if he heard that, would spit in Zinke’s face. A lying sack of excrement, Zinke has actually said “No one loves public lands more than I do.”
So what are the facts? As the Secretary makes a show, just like someone else we know, of traipsing across millions of acres of the most glorious lands on earth, his underlings sitting at their Washington, DC desks are working diligently to undue eight years and a centuries-old history of legal protections. These underlings, recent hires from where? Yes – from the oil industry, from the natural gas industry, and from other private employment that provided them years of experience in seeing to it that the precious minerals and liquids beneath the earth’s surface are extracted at whatever environmental cost, while maximizing profits and wrecking havoc on delicate ecosystems. This past week, staff submitted a proposal to rescind federal regulations implementing safety measures on fracking, and they are now in the process of taking similar actions regarding loosening or
withdrawing safety rules for underwater drilling equipment enacted after the disastrous 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Other actions already taken include rolling back an Obama-era order that blocked coal mining on public lands and a delay has been imposed in the implementation of regulations controlling the emissions of methane gas from oil and gas wells.
While Zinke spends his time galloping across plains and grasslands, up and down mountain trails and along lakes and rivers, when he’s not taking time out to issue vile threats to American citizens and their elected officials, the work of the department he is supposed to be leading is now in the hands of newly confirmed Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a longtime oil industry lobbyist and former Interior Dept. official under that well known environmentalist, george w bush. Is there a pattern here – appointing a former industry lobbyist to be the second in command and guy in charge of the nitty gritty at a federal department that is SUPPOSED to protect the very thing that he lobbied to destroy?
Bernhardt’s list of “former” clients – no conflict of interest here – includes such widely respected and honest [ha!] businesses and organizations as:
- The Independent Petroleum Association of America. According to their website, this organization “represents the thousands of independent oil and natural gas producers and service companies across the United States. Independent producers develop 95 percent of domestic oil and gas wells, produce 54 percent of domestic oil and produce 85 percent of domestic natural gas”
- Cobalt International Energy, an international oil exploration company that focuses its resources in the Gulf of Mexico and in West Africa. The company is facing legal action pending since 2014 for violations of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 for alleged bribes to officials in Angola
- Samson Resources, the largest privately held crude oil and natural gas company in the US
- Halliburton Energy Services, one of the Halliburton companies led for many years by and partially owned by Dick Cheney, and that profited to the tune of approximately $40 Billion during the Iraq War
Already on Bernhardt’s desk is a major conflict of interest. Several of his former clients have been pushing to have the Interior Dept. combine two of its divisions, one that collects revenue from oil and gas companies that drill on federal lands and waters, and another division that oversees and enforces safety and environmental regulations of that drilling. Once a single division, several years ago a commission investigating industry spills concluded that it was a major conflict to have a single office handle such diverse tasks as it appeared to them that drilling was prioritized over safety. But the industry today wants them re-combined, and we can all guess why.
Just like at the EPA, the new administration has also been busy re-assigning (or firing) personnel in the interior Dept., most significantly employees who possess scientific backgrounds and who are concerned with issues affecting environmental issues. An example is Joel Clement, who was Director of the Dept. of the Interior’s Office of Policy Analysis for several years during the Obama Administration, advising on issues involving the Arctic. In that capacity he prepared a 2013 report that warned of “rapid coastal erosion threatening villages and facilities, loss of wildlife habitat, ecosystem instability… and unpredictable impacts on subsistence activities and critical social needs.” due to the fast rate of warming in the arctic region.
Now re-assigned to an accounting office where he was to analyze billings for drilling services, Clement wrote an Op-Ed for the The Washington Post, in which he stated that this was retaliation for his outspoken positions on climate change, including months of warnings given to the new sheriff in town.
Zinke has in fact stated that he intends to oversee “probably the greatest reorganization in the history of the Department of the Interior” and the reduction in department staff by over 4,000 employees. It was already widely reported that any and all mention of such things as climate change have been removed from the Dept. of the Interior’s website, and other government sites.
Besides Clement, another couple of dozen veteran department experts were all re-assigned by email notification from James Cason, a longtime reagan and bush department favorite, who has been given new powers under Zinke as Associate Deputy Secretary. In fact, this firing/re-assignment spree done on June 15, 2017 has been called the “Thursday Night Massacre”.
Washington state senator Maria Cantwell has since contacted the department and asked for an investigation into these actions.
As well as becoming a hatchet man for the administration, Cason has also been tasked with the duty of reviewing department regulations to pick out those he believes should be eliminated. Just guess who the person is assigned to assist Cason with THIS endeavor?
Fossil fuel industry observer Dieter Helm explains how the global move toward the "internet-of-things" will inexorably reduce the demand for oil, gas, and renewables - and prove more effective than current efforts to avert climate change.
None other than a man by the name of Daniel Jorjani, a long-time advisor to charles koch who is said to have been one of the koch brothers’ highest paid and most trusted employees.
Another new Interior Dept. top level employee that needs mention is Douglas W. Domenech, tapped to head the division that oversees policy for the Interior Dept.’s overseas territories. Where did Domenech come from? Why his last job was with the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s “Fueling Freedom Project”, whose reason for existence was to spread propaganda about the “forgotten moral case for fossil fuels” as they expose the “mad war” on energy and work to end the regulation of carbon dioxide. The Fueling Freedom Project has been called the voice of climate change for the new administration.
Ole Teddy must be rolling over in his grave. Please Secretary Zinke, don’t continue to insult his memory.