cloudy.png
Wednesday September 18th, 2019 6:07PM

US lands agency makeover would diminish Washington's power

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke disclosed Friday in an Associated Press interview that he's revamping a sweeping overhaul of his department that's supposed to speed up permitting for development on public lands, but Democrats asserted it was just a ploy to let the energy industry get its way.

The changes follow complaints from a bipartisan group of Western state governors that Zinke did not consult them before unveiling a plan last month to decentralize the Interior Department.

The agency oversees vast public lands, primarily in the U.S. West, ranging from protected national parks and wildlife refuges to areas where coal mining and energy exploration dominate the landscape.

Zinke wants to divide the department into 13 regions, with boundaries that more closely follows state lines instead of the natural boundaries he initially proposed, he told AP.

"At present we are mismanaging and squandering our assets through a layered bureaucracy that reflects a very old department that really has not reorganized since the turn of the last century," he said. "We will be moving assets to the front lines and moving authority to make decisions and, I would argue, better decisions to the front lines."

Zinke said Friday that his focus was on three areas: improving recreational access, simplifying environmental reviews and speeding up the permitting process for energy exploration and other projects on public lands.

A redrawn map from the agency shows that states such as Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming would fall within a single region instead of being split among multiple regions. Other states remain divided, including California, Nevada, Montana and Oregon.

Aspects of the original map remain, with some regions labeled according to river systems, such as the Upper Colorado Basin and the Missouri Basin. But the new lines tend to cut across geographic features and follow state lines, not boundaries of rivers and ecosystems.

"Zinke's new map shows the same industry-friendly disregard for the Interior Department as his last failed proposal," said Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. Another Democrat, Donald McEachin of Virginia, urged Zinke to "stop wasting taxpayer dollars" relocating personnel and resources until he provides Congress with a more detailed plan.

The new proposal resulted from discussions with governors, members of Congress and senior leaders at the agency, Interior officials said. Zinke spokeswoman Heather Swift said the original proposal had been a "discussion draft" rather than a finished document and was now being refined through a collaborative process.

Among those opposed to Zinke's original plan was the oil and gas industry. It said a reorganization based on watersheds was too similar to proposals from former President Barack Obama.

Western Governors' Association Executive Director Jim Ogsbury said the organization was "gratified" Zinke listened to its concerns and shifted the agency's plan to craft changes around state boundaries.

"The governors support the Department's goal of operating more efficiently and effectively by moving more decision making to the field," Ogsbury said in a statement to AP. "We look forward to additional conversations with the Department on how to further refine the plan."

A spokeswoman for Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, the Republican chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, said Zinke should be applauded "for actually listening to the public and adjusting plans based on feedback."

A retired Interior Department official expressed doubts over whether the proposal would achieve Zinke's stated desire to move decision-making closer to the field level. Steve Ellis, former deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management, the second largest branch of Interior, said the reorganization could instead add another layer of bureaucracy with 13 new regional directors.

But Ellis added that the new map was an improvement because it's more in line with existing administrative boundaries.

Zinke, a former Republican congressman from Montana, already has imposed major changes at the 70,000-employee Interior Department. He has rolled back regulations considered burdensome to the oil and gas industry and reassigned dozens of senior officials who were holdovers from President Barack Obama's administration.

The vision of retooling the department's bureaucracy plays into longstanding calls from politicians in the American West to shift more decisions about nearly 700,000 square miles (more than 1.8 million square kilometers) of public lands under Interior oversight to officials in the region.

However, some critics have speculated that Zinke's true motivation for the overhaul is to gut the department, noting that more than 90 percent of its employees already work outside Washington, D.C.

Zinke contends that he's trying to streamline Interior's management of public lands by requiring all of the agencies within the department to use common regional boundaries, including the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service.

___

Elliott reported from Denver.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Business, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Utilities
© Copyright 2019 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
US lands agency makeover would diminish Washington's power
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has revamped a proposed overhaul of his department following criticism from Western governors, but he's not backing off his overarching goal to decentralize its bureaucracy
5:02PM ( 3 minutes ago )
Police experts urge intensive training if teachers are armed
Law enforcement experts say it takes specialized and constant training to know how to act in an active shooter situation
5:00PM ( 5 minutes ago )
After school shooting, Florida leaders propose new gun laws
Florida governor, legislature propose ban on sale of firearms to anyone younger than 21, but differ on whether some teachers should carry weapons in school.
4:51PM ( 15 minutes ago )
U.S. News
Broad rally helps stocks end a choppy week slightly higher
Wall Street capped several days of choppy trading Friday with a broad rally that gave the stock market a modest gain for the week
4:56PM ( 10 minutes ago )
The Latest: Mueller files new charge against Paul Manafort
Special counsel Robert Mueller is accusing President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman of secretly paying former European politicians to lobby on behalf of Ukraine.
4:49PM ( 17 minutes ago )
The Latest: Manafort responds to Gates' guilty plea
President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman is maintaining his innocence after his longtime business associate pleaded guilty to federal charges.
4:44PM ( 21 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Trump, Turnbull praise each other on immigration and taxes
President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull put their "mateship" on full display Friday at the White House as they took turns praising each other's approaches on immigration and taxes.
4:14PM ( 52 minutes ago )
Ex-Trump aide pleads guilty, will cooperate in Russia probe
A former top adviser to President Donald Trump's election campaign has pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and false statements charges in the special counsel's Russia investigation.
4:10PM ( 55 minutes ago )
Trump again criticizes ailing McCain over health care vote
Trump again criticizes ailing McCain over health care vote
4:05PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
The Latest: Trump calls Syria 'humanitarian disgrace'
President Donald Trump is blaming Russia, Iran and the Syrian government for recent violence in Syria, calling it a "humanitarian disgrace."
2:59PM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: Australia says he's inspired by US tax cuts
President Donald Trump says "a lot of good things" will come from Friday's meetings with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
2:31PM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: Greitens lawyer says prosecutor declined meeting
The attorney for Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens says the governor wanted to meet with the prosecutor prior to his indictment but she refused
2:03PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
Police experts urge intensive training if teachers are armed
Law enforcement experts say it takes specialized and constant training to know how to act in an active shooter situation
5:00PM ( 5 minutes ago )
After school shooting, Florida leaders propose new gun laws
Florida governor, legislature propose ban on sale of firearms to anyone younger than 21, but differ on whether some teachers should carry weapons in school.
4:51PM ( 15 minutes ago )
Attorneys seek information on aborted Alabama execution
Attorneys seek information on aborted execution
4:39PM ( 27 minutes ago )
Trump says arm US teachers; they love kids as others don't
President Donald Trump says the armed officer who didn't stop the gunman who carried out last week's Florida massacre was either a "coward" or "didn't react properly under pressure."
4:38PM ( 27 minutes ago )
Protesters want Nevada to enforce gun background check law
With protesters outside the courthouse calling for action, a Nevada judge is due to hear arguments about a voter-approved gun background-check law that has not been enforced since voters passed it in November 2016
3:48PM ( 1 hour ago )