Last fall, when President-elect Donald Trump was weighing whom to nominate to be Interior secretary, an early candidate for the job, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), generated concern among some hunting and fishing advocates for her stance on who should control the more than 500 million acres under Interior Department management.
Like some other Republicans in Congress, McMorris Rodgers thinks the federal government controls too much land and should sell parcels to private interests who will better harness its natural resources and raise revenue for the government — or at least transfer some to the states, which will have local interests at heart.
At the intervention of his son Donald Trump Jr., who like other hunters worried that an Interior secretary in favor of land transfer would limit sportsmen’s access to federal land, the president-elect settled on the congressman from Montana, Ryan Zinke, to be Interior secretary. Zinke says he would never sell or otherwise transfer public lands.
Now, nearly a year later, the Interior Department’s choice to temporarily run the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an Interior division that administers about half the agency's land holdings, has raised eyebrows among public land advocates.
Last week, Interior named Brian Steed to be interim BLM director. Before that appointment, Steed was chief of staff for Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), an advocate for land transfer who co-founded a congressional caucus called the Federal Land Action Group, intent on crafting legislation to put federal holdings under local control.
Some environmental groups, which prefer to see public lands managed by the federal government instead of industry-friendly states, are concerned by Steed’s appointment.
“Secretary Zinke has just promoted a champion of disposing America’s public lands into state and private hands,” Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, said in a statement. “Secretary Zinke’s actions speak far louder than his words.”
In an email, an Interior Department spokeswoman, Heather Swift, said Zinke has not wavered in his stance on public lands.
"The Secretary's position is unchanged," Swift wrote.
Despite being an early supporter for Trump during the presidential campaign, Zinke resigned as a delegate to the Republican National Convention due to the party's position on land transfer.
After a draft GOP platform emerged that read "Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to the states," Zinke withdrew from the nominating convention in Cleveland.
"What I saw was a platform that was more divisive than uniting," Zinke told the Billings Gazette at the time. "At this point, I think it's better to show leadership."
That position does not appear to entirely square with Steed's.
“We have these federal overlords,” Steed said in speech last year. “How do we have them be a little more responsive to the needs that we have?”
“We know there's a variety of things that could be done, one of which is seeking large-scale transfer,” he continued before detailing other potential policies short of land transfer that could give ranchers better access to public lands.
One of the names floated to lead BLM permanently has generated concern among land transfer opponents, too. Karen Budd-Falen, a Wyoming-based lawyer who in the past represented rancher Cliven Bundy in his fights against the federal government, has acknowledged she is under consideration for the job.
Last month, Land Tawney, president of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, said he trusts Zinke is going to stay "strong" on public lands issues, but worried about "potential nominees for BLM director that don't necessarily share those values."
"I think that's something that we'll need to watch," Tawney added.
In an email on Monday, Tawney called the appointment of Steed "troubling at best" while adding that "Ryan Zinke has repeatedly affirmed his support of our public lands and waters, and many of his past actions are consistent with his stated position, which we respect."
There’s another potential issue with Steed’s appointment. Some conservation groups say that installing him as acting director of the agency violates federal law.
Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, an agency employee must work at an office for a certain period of time before ascending to an interim role running the bureau. Given Steed’s brief tenure at BLM — he began as deputy director there only this autumn — he should be ineligible to temporarily run the agency, the groups say.
“Even if President Trump nominated someone for the position today,” said Center for Western Priorities spokesman Aaron Weiss, “Brian Steed wouldn't be able to become acting director until he's been at the agency for 90 days.”
After the news site E&E News published a story on the vacancies issue, Swift, the Interior spokeswoman, justified Steed’s appointment by saying that Zinke delegated the responsibilities of the office to Steed without giving him the formal title of director.
“Technically he is acting with the full delegated functions, duties, responsibilities and authority of the BLM director but does not have the title of 'acting BLM director,' " Swift told E&E News.
But when Steed’s promotion at BLM was first announced, BLM.gov listed him “acting director” on its website.
"Brian's position is not Acting-Director," Swift told The Post by email.
Bobby McEnaney, a senior deputy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said even with that clarification, it is “still not clear to me how DOI [is] not violating the law.”
This story has been updated with comment from the Interior Department.
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-- President Trump called off a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to allow elephants in Zimbabwe and Zambia shot for sport to be imported to the United States as trophies, tweeting his decision late Friday and reiterating the move on Sunday.
Trump tweeted Friday that he would halt the 2014 government ban “until such time as I review all conservation facts."
Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts. Under study for years. Will update soon with Secretary Zinke. Thank you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2017
He teased Sunday that a final decision would come next week but seemed to signal that his mind was made up, calling elephant hunting a “horror show."
Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2017
Why the reversal? "Several conservative pundits and lawmakers questioned the decision, and this criticism didn’t sit well with Trump, who himself has criticized big-game hunting on occasion," writes The Post's Juliet Eilperin and Anne Gearan. These include, importantly, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.), who warned against easing restrictions on trophy imports in a Friday statement, and conservative pundit Laura Ingraham, who tweeted that she didn't "understand how this move by @realDonaldTrump Admin will not INCREASE the gruesome poaching of elephants."
"A White House official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record, said the president became uncomfortable with the decision as he learned more about it, and he decided to act," Eilperin and Gearan report.
The Daily 202's James Hohmann has more on how TV optics influenced the president's decision here.
Lions too? It's unclear what the "any other animal" part of the tweet might mean, but the Trump administration made a separate decision last month to lift an import ban on lion trophies. That decision received little attention at the time.
There’s always a tweet: From Cleve R. Wootson Jr., here's a flashback to a 2012 tweet from Donald Trump responding to a tweet from Cher about a story of Donald Trump Jr. posing in a photo with slain animals:
@cher Old story, one of which I publicly disapproved. My sons love hunting, I don’t.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2012
-- Where is Trump on hydrofluorocarbons? The United States, one of the biggest makers of HFCs, has not yet ratified an international agreement to eliminate the chemical, the New York Times reports, and the Trump administration has not signaled whether it will do so. Twenty countries — Sweden the latest — have ratified the treaty and joined a group that aims to phase out the use of the chemical. With Sweden's ratification, the treaty has met its threshold to enter into force, beginning in 2019.
--When moccasins won’t suffice: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke showed his support for Native American and indigenous people and the Rock Your Mocs cultural celebration in a tweet showing off his moccasins and American flag socks last week:
But The Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears report that Native American tribes are frustrated with the secretary over his decision to adjust the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
They note that some supporters of Bears Ears criticized Zinke for the tweet.
“He’s not rocking his mocs. He’s putting them on display, which is a form of cultural appropriation,” Angelo Baca, cultural resources coordinator for the Utah Diné Bikéyah told The Post. “He is using it as a vehicle for his own political ends.”
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Indian Affairs thanked Zinke.
Thank you @SecretaryZinke for sharing in our celebration of #NAHM17 on #RockYourMocs Day! We were honored to hear your remembrance of Michael Bell (#NativeVets) as we gathered around the quilt his family gave to you. pic.twitter.com/sMtcuUnVm8— Indian Affairs (@USIndianAffairs) November 15, 2017
-- Monuments update: Eilperin and Fears also reported that the Interior Department would not confirm reports from last week on planned adjustments for monuments in Utah. After the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Ron Dean, assistant to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), told state lawmakers that Bears Ears would be trimmed to between 100,000 to 300,000 acres, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument would be cut to between 700,000 to 1,2 million acres, the Interior Department dismissed his account.
"Respectfully, Hatch’s staff does not work for DOI and does not speak for the secretary,” spokeswoman Heather Swift said in a statement. “Additionally, the Secretary did not provide any acreage or implication of acreage in his conversation with the Tribune.”
The Post points out that Hatch spoke directly with President Trump over the decision to follow Zinke’s recommendations on Bears Ears, lending credence to Dean’s remarks over the monuments.
The latest on Puerto Rico:
ICYMI: The executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority resigned Friday amid ongoing repairs more than eight weeks after Hurricane Maria barreled through the island and damaged the electrical grid. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced the move, saying Ricardo Ramos Rodriguez’s tenure had become “unsustainable,” reports The Post’s Steven Mufson and Arelis R. Hernández. His resignation follows criticism over the utility’s decision to grant a $300 million, since-cancelled, no-bid contract to the tiny Whitefish Energy firm instead of turning to larger, more experienced networks of utilities.
Rosselló said he would recommend Justo González, who began his career with PREPA in 1989, as interim director. “We have faced a number of obstacles,” Rosselló said. “But I expect an effective transition.”
Lawmakers charged that the White House’s latest request of $44 billion for additional emergency relief funds is not enough to help in recovery following the recent spate of storms.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has asked for $61 billion in relief to help the state following Hurricane Harvey, which Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) supported, per the Wall Street Journal. And Democrats warned that the White House’s request did not come close to what is needed for Puerto Rico after island officials asked lawmakers for more than $94 billion last week.
Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.) tweeted that the Friday request was “how you let America down again:”
Mr. President, Texas requested $61B to support victims of Hurricane Harvey. How can you possibly think your $44B disaster aid request for all 2017 disasters in TX, FL, PR, & the VI is enough? This isn't how you make America Great again, this is how you let America down again.— Congressman Al Green (@RepAlGreen) November 17, 2017
- In its Friday announcement, the White House also suggested cutting federal spending by $59 billion to offset relief costs, the Wall Street Journal reported. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said in a letter to congressional leaders that the administration believes it is “prudent to offset spending.”
-- Bringing the (brimstone and) fire : EPA chief Scott Pruitt, who is a deeply religious Southern Baptist, tweeted late Friday night after he attended the opening of the Museum of The Bible in Washington, using the occasion to fire shots at the previous administration:
Honored to attend the dedication of the #museumoftheBible this morning. Fun fact: Obama-era regulations are 38 times as long as the original Gutenberg Bible.— Administrator Pruitt (@EPAScottPruitt) November 18, 2017
Read more about the museum and its opening from The Post.
-- Here’s why the Keystone pipeline leak shouldn't affect Nebraska regulators' decision: The 210,000 gallon oil leak from the Keystone pipeline came days before a scheduled ruling on Monday from the Nebraska Public Service Commission on whether its sister pipeline, the Keystone XL, can go forward. But it should not matter for the commission. From the Associated Press: “Nebraska lawmakers gave the five-member commission the power to regulate major oil pipelines in 2011 in response to a public outcry over the pipeline and its potential impact on the Sandhills, an ecologically fragile region of grass-covered sand dunes. But when they passed the law, legislators argued that pipeline safety is a federal responsibility and should not factor in the state decision.”
But The Post's Steven Mufson writes the spill still injects new uncertainty into the decision from the Nebraska commission, writing: "rarely does it occupy the spotlight as it will Monday." Read more of his analysis here along with another a good breakdown from Bloomberg News.
-- The curious relationship between education and climate change among conservatives: Intuition says that the more educated a person is, the more likely he or she is to be concerned about climate change. Not so, at least among Republicans. "About one in four Republicans with only a high school education said they worried about climate change a great deal," writes Kevin Quealy at the New York Times' Upshot. "But among college-educated Republicans, that figure decreases, sharply, to 8 percent. This relationship persists even when pollsters pose different kinds of questions about climate change – when Republicans are asked if they believe global warming 'will never happen,' if they think it poses 'a serious threat to way of life in your lifetime' or if it is caused by 'natural changes in the environment.'"
Why is that? The issue now is weighed down with partisan baggage since the days before the 2008 presidential election when the Republican and Democratic candidates agreed global warming needed to be seriously addressed. Now, after a sustained campaign from the Charles and David Koch and others against greenhouse gas regulations, many Republicans are likely to view climate change as fake science.
As Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist, told The Times in June: "In some ways, it’s become yet another of the long list of litmus test issues that determine whether or not you’re a good Republican."
- The House and Senate are out this week for the Thanksgiving holiday.
- The World Resources Institute holds a seminar on “Powering Cities in the Global South: How Energy Access for All Benefits the Economy and the Environment.”
- The United States Energy Association holds an event about “The Carbon IRA.”
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts an event about the “Status of Carbon Capture 2017” on November 28.
Why Trump ignores allegations against Roy Moore and himself, but attacks Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.):
Alabama residents grapple with disillusionment and disbelief as the Senate election between Republican Roy Moore, who is accused of sexual harassment and assault, and Democrat Doug Jones approaches:
Saturday Night Live addresses the allegations against Franken:
Watch Saturday Night Live's cold open on Donald Trump Jr.'s relationship with WikiLeaks: