Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is so awful that he drove 10 out of 12 members of the National Park System advisory board to resign. The federally chartered board that designates national historic and natural landmarks threw up the deuces after they grew tired of Zinke's shenanigans. At no point since Zinke has taken office did he meet with the board. The terms for most of the members were set to expire in May, but things had gotten so bad they just bounced.
(Remember, this is the second time we've seen an entire council resign during this administration. The
President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned in August last year after Trump's "controversial" (read: racist) comments about protests in Charlottesville.)
In December 2016, President Obama issued Director's Order No. 100 before he left office - a directive calling for climate change to be a focus in the management of natural resources in our park system. Its purpose states:
The National Park System and related areas face environmental and social changes that are increasingly widespread, complex, accelerating, and uncertain. Addressing these challenges requires updates of National Park Service (NPS) policy to reflect the complexity of decisions needed for resource stewardship. This Director’s Order (Order) is intended to guide the Service in taking the necessary actions to support resource stewardship to fulfill its mission in the 21st century.
Unfortunately, the order was rescinded on August 16, 2017 by Zinke. The NPS advisory board had played a role in the creation of D.O. 100 in an effort to further the scientific literacy needed for leadership making resource management decisions surrounding key issues like biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change. The Department's current leadership has shown no interest in learning about or continuing to advance an agenda that address the effects of climate change, protections needed for our ecosystems or allocated resources for education.
Last month, Trump signed a proclamation to reduce the size of Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by half. The move was the largest rollback of federally protected land in history. It sets a precedent for more ecological and culturally significant lands to lose its protected status for industrial development.
Energy Fuels Resources, a uranium mining company, lobbied hard for these reductions. In a letter to Interior Secretary Zinke, company CEO Mark Chalmers complained that the monument protections could "affect existing and future mill operations." The newly drawn boundaries of Bears Ears now have the uranium deposits outside the protected area.
Conservationists and Tribal Nations have pointed out the health risks associated with uranium mining, but many politicians chalk it up to scare tactics. Clearly, they don't care about the impact uranium's toxicity already has on Navajo families.
Since 2008, the EPA and other federal agencies have worked together to address the uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation as part of a historic $600 million settlement agreement. From 1944 to 1986 hundreds of mining operations were opened because of the high demand for atomic weapons at the end of World War II. Across Utah, New Mexico and Arizona, Navajo people worked in or near the mines, raising their families within close proximity of radioactive substances. As the Cold War waned, mining companies left, abandoning more than 500 mines across 27,000 square miles of land.
Many died of cancer and kidney failure, and others still have a high rate of uranium contamination from drinking water, land and the houses they live in. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Navajo families in this area have higher uranium levels than the rest of the U.S. population. It's another case of environmental racism.
Zinke has raised prices to national parks, overturned a ban on coal mining on public lands and eliminated climate sciences from programs. He has yet to fill many executive level positions at Interior, such as a director for NPS, and ended many environmental safeguards. Most recently, a plan was announced to allow offshore drilling in previously protected waters. And let’s not forget his efforts to lift the ban on importing trophies from elephants and lions hunted overseas.
It's clear this administration is needlessly putting our monuments, parks, ecosystems and natural resources at risk. Just because there's a way to make money off the lands, doesn't mean that we should. Zinke is rivalling to be worse for the environment than EPA chief Scott Pruitt.
Environmental advocate. Communications professional. Sports fan. I love television and press conferences.