E & E NEWS- Las Vegas- Democratic Rep. Dina Titus yesterday railed against Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s abbreviated review of national monuments in Nevada and accused the Trump administration of acting “like big bullies” in its management of public lands.
Titus appeared at a press conference organized by the progressive group Battle Born Progress, along with a pair of Clark County commissioners and leaders of the conservation organization Friends of Gold Butte.
Donning her self-proclaimed “fashion statement” — yellow sunglasses emblazoned with “#GoldButte” — Titus slammed Zinke for his one-day visit to view both the Gold Butte and Basin and Range national monuments.
“I wanted to set the record straight about Secretary Zinke: We have written, we have called, we have talked to the Department of Interior trying to get him out here so when he makes his sweep of the monuments he can have an understanding of just how valuable and just how important Nevada’s monuments are,” Titus said.
Both Nevada sites are part of Zinke’s ongoing review of dozens of national monuments, with an eye toward potential reductions or even eliminations. President Trump ordered the review in late April, and a final report is due on Aug. 24.
Although Zinke had planned to meet over two days with both supporters and opponents of each monument, along with local officials and tribal representatives, he cut back his visit to a day due to a White House staff shake-up and a related Cabinet meeting called for yesterday.
Individuals who did attend portions of Zinke’s tour of the Nevada monuments said the secretary appeared geared toward considering only small portions of the 297,000-acre Gold Butte or the 704,000-acre Basin and Range monuments.
But Titus and Clark County officials questioned the mix of guests whom Zinke ultimately spent time with during aerial tours of both monuments, as well as short visits to antiquities at each site.
Battle Born Progress Executive Director Annette Magnus introduced Nevada Democratic Rep. Dina Titus (right) at a press conference yesterday criticizing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s monuments review. Jennifer Yachnin/E&E News
“They turned it into a political event instead of making it what it was supposed to be, getting good information about the value of our monuments. We don’t appreciate it,” Titus said.
Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani (D) likewise called Zinke’s companions “most disappointing,” referring to former Clark County GOP Chairman David McKeon, who is seeking Nevada’s 3rd District seat, and state Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R), who is seen as a likely gubernatorial contender in 2018.
“They’re not working in a collegial manner. Maybe that’s just how they do business in Washington, but we do it different in Nevada,” said Giunchigliani, who is herself a potential gubernatorial candidate.
Democratic officials also described efforts to meet with Zinke as chaotic, with numerous meetings set and rescheduled at the last minute.
“It’s really disappointing that all of us couldn’t collaborate in the meetings that we were promised to come together and talk about what’s important for Nevada,” said Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D). “They left out local government in that entire process.”
Funding from offshore drilling?
Some criticized Zinke’s focus on the possibility of funding from offshore drilling as well as other concerns.
“He brought up some issues that were bizarre and not particularly relevant to the issue we were talking about,” said Friends of Gold Butte board member Jim Boone, who met Zinke during his tour of the Mount Irish Archaeological District at the Basin and Range monument.
In particular, Boone said Zinke spoke about his “notion that environmentalists are the ones to be blamed for the lack of funding [for monuments], because funding largely comes from offshore drilling.”
During multiple appearances on Capitol Hill earlier this summer, Zinke repeatedly pitched his plan to raise funds for cash-strapped agency priorities by boosting drilling in federal waters. In his testimony, Zinke has often highlighted the 2008 revenues of $18 billion from offshore production, an outlier year that produced significantly more profit than those before or after (Climatewire, June 26).
Boone, an ecologist, said he was also concerned with Zinke’s focus on preserving artifacts rather than “landscape-level issues” such as the geology of the Great Basin or even preserving “the tradition of ranching.”
“He’s clearly opposed to large national monuments, and under his philosophy places like the Grand Canyon would never have been established,” Boone said. “Death Valley, Zion, Grand Teton, Joshua Tree, all these places would never have been established.”
Boone also noted that he did not have significant time to speak with Zinke since most of the visit consisted of a Bureau of Land Management guided tour of local petroglyphs.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, intersection resource coordinator Patrick Naranjo, who also met with Zinke during his visit, echoed Boone’s remarks that Zinke opened discussions by focusing on the potential for oil and gas development to create federal revenues.
“We’re trying to protect unique items that mean very important things to Nevada. I felt like he overlooked the importance of that,” Naranjo said.