Inside the new Department of the Inferior

Renaming federal departments is nothing new.

The Defense Department was the War Department. The State Department was Foreign Affairs.

In 2016 the nation’s steward of public lands became the Department of the Inferior. And with it the Environmental Pillaging Agency.

Take bad science, add ethically malformed leaders, and draw up policy sculpted by industrial marauders. That’s our approach to public lands and natural resources under Donald Trump.

Or in the words of Michael Hiltzik, a Pulitzer Prize winner for the Los Angeles Times who covers our Inferior Department: What was founded to be “a steward of America’s natural patrimony” has been transformed “into an agent of plunder.”

This is not what Ryan Zinke said he was going to create when chosen by Trump to head the department. In confirmation hearings, Zinke mouthed words that sounded like an environmentalist.

Zinke said he wanted to follow in Theodore Roosevelt’s tradition in protecting and bolstering the nation’s public lands. This caused an environmental eminence like National Wildlife Foundation CEO Collin O’Mara to support him.

However, upon Zinke’s recent resignation, O’Mara wrote, “Zinke’s dogged pursuit of unfettered fossil-fuel extraction makes James Watt’s disastrous tenure look timid.”

It was a testimonial to the Trump-Zinke approach to public lands that three-fourths of the members of the National Parks Board resigned in protest of Inferior policies that were fashioned almost entirely to the whims of industry.

Consider a proposal by Inferior to limit Freedom of Information Act requests by average citizens. Rest assured, no such request by industry will be shuffled to the bottom of the stack.

How to explain this? Easy. Under Trump, the Department of the Inferior is no longer a public entity but a private one, for-profit, proprietary. “Government run like a business.”

One thing that industry has demonstrated is its commitment to never let science in the public interest get in the way of private interests.

In Trump’s Department of the Inferior, the best scientific minds have been chased away or shuffled into positions where they can’t be seen or heard.

Under Zinke, a page on Inferior’s website which once served as a go-to location for facts about climate change was removed.

Meanwhile, all science grants of more than $50,000 given by the department have been vetted by a high school football teammate of Zinke who has no science background.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, in a report on the “monumental disaster” facing scientific pursuits in the department, tells of upper-level ideologues “freezing out advice from science committees; restricting DOI scientists from communicating about their work; removing, reassigning, or intimidating scientists; and creating a climate of fear and intimidation.”

Lest anyone think things might change without Zinke, who bailed just ahead of a Congress inclined to probe a raft of ethics charges against him, backward “progress” likely will continue.

His successor, David Bernhardt, is a former lobbyist for mining and energy interests. Whereas Zinke tried to lip-sync Teddy Roosevelt in his confirmation, Bernhardt no doubt will be mouthing the lines of oil cutthroat Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood.”

The Washington Post depicts Bernhardt as the strategy guy behind much of what’s happened in the Inferior Department – the opening of 17 million acres of federal lands for oil leases (some as cheaply as $1.50 an acre), and efforts to tunnel under the Endangered Species Act, per industry demands.

“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received,” Teddy Roosevelt said of our natural areas. “Each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”

If we are to read the intentions of Trump, that “good fortune” was really meant for an elite club of investors.

By the way, that quote is up on the National Parks System web site. Watch for it to be purged by sundown.

Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young now lives in Colorado.

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