Grijalva: Trump Admin Wrecks Alaska Wilderness As Interior Department Drifts Through Shutdown Without Leadership

Washington, D.C. – As Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed the land transfer order today opening a section of wilderness in Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to road construction, Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said the move – particularly alongside Zinke’s recent lawless tweeting about offshore drilling policy in Florida and the illegal shrinking of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument – worsens the damage done to the Interior Department by the incompetence of the Trump administration and lack of oversight by the Republican Congress.

“Secretary Zinke gets more headlines for travel scandals than for doing his job, and his loudest message to his own employees is that they’re disloyal to the flag – by which he means himself personally,” Grijalva said today. “When it’s time to make actual policy, his only instinct is to do the clumsiest version of the opposite of what President Obama did, as he did again today. His biggest decisions are likely to be overturned in court, his employees’ morale is widely known to be ‘in the toilet,’ and he counts building a road through a wilderness area to be a meaningful accomplishment. This is not government by science and careful analysis – this is government by personal whim and a need to attack the Obama administration regardless of the consequences.”

Congress authorized the Izembek land exchange in 2009 but required a study to determine whether the road was in the public interest. After a transparent four-year review, the Obama administration determined the project was not in the public interest.

The Trump administration has disregarded those findings, reportedly authorizing the land transfer  based on obscure provisions of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. As with the Utah monument attacks and Zinke’s tweets, today’s move in Alaska opens the administration to the likelihood of successful legal challenges.

The Washington Post has reported that the administration’s move is unprecedented and does not seem to comply with the Wilderness Act, increasing the decision’s legal vulnerability:

The 1964 Wilderness Act bars new roads and the use of motorized vehicles in areas designated under the law except in rare instances — such as to provide access for the development of existing mining claims — and there appears to be no precedent for the executive branch permitting those activities for other reasons. The Wilderness Society and other groups successfully blocked the Forest Service last year from authorizing four miles of road construction in Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to access a long-dormant gold mine.

More information about Republicans’ history of demanding road construction through Izembek despite overwhelming scientific and public pressure is available at http://naturalresources.house.gov/imo/media/doc/H.R.%20218%20One%20Pager.FINAL.pdf.

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