“You are now responsible for the actions that Ryan Zinke will take as Secretary of the Interior,” reads a letter aimed at 16 Democrats and Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine. “I plan to hold you accountable.”
Ryan Zinke, a now former Congressman from Montana, has just been confirmed to lead the Department of Interior. He has a lifetime record of voting against the environment 96% of the time. His confirmation jeopardizes the future of our public lands, and the people, wildlife, and economies that depend on them.
Zinke’s answers to questions during the confirmation process provide insight into how he envisions the Department of Interior will manage millions of acres of federal lands and the natural resources under and on our wild places. When asked if humans have contributed to climate change, he questioned whether we are the driving force. When asked about protecting public lands, he refused to commit to keeping dirty fuels in the ground. He even said that the recent designation of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, lands that are sacred to five Native American tribes with ancestral and spiritual ties to these lands, was one of the “pending problems we need to address quickly.”
Our public lands allow us to experience the majesty of the great outdoors, learn about our country’s history, and honor those whose cultural history dates back millennia. It’s now become imperative that we step up and fight so that future generations can enjoy these places, too.
- Ryan Zinke’s Environmental Scorecard, League of Conservation Voters.
- Ryan Zinke is one step closer to becoming interior secretary Washington Post. 1/31/2017.
- Interior nominee: President has power to amend, maybe remove, monument designation Salt Lake Tribune. 1/17/2017.
— by Jenny Roland & Matt Lee-Ashley, Guest Contributors at ThinkProgress
The political network of the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has signaled that it is expanding its financial and organizational support for a coalition of anti-government activists and militants who are working to seize and sell America’s national forests, monuments, and other public lands.
The disclosure, made through emails sent by the American Lands Council and Koch-backed group Federalism in Action to their members, comes as the 40-day armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon is winding to an end.
The occupation came to a head, with the FBI moving in on the four remaining militants at the refuge and arresting scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy at the Portland airport under charges of conspiracy to impede federal officers. Occupation leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy were previously arrested under the same charge on January 26. The Bundys and their group of militants want the federal government to cede national public lands to state and private control.
Though ClimateProgress has previously uncovered and reported on the dark money that the Kochs have provided for political efforts to seize and sell public lands, recent organizational changes reveal that the Koch network is providing direct support to the ringleader of the land grab movement, Utah state representative Ken Ivory, and has forged an alliance with groups and individuals who have militia ties and share extreme anti-government ideologies.
The expanded window into the Koch network’s support for the land transfer movement opened on February 3, 2016, when the American Lands Council (ALC) (a group whose goal is to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over publicly owned national forests and other public lands) announced that Ivory would be stepping down as its president to join a South Carolina-based group called Federalism in Action (FIA).
At ALC, Ivory had risen to be the most prominent and active voice in the land seizure movement, but his tenure as president was plagued by evidence that the group violated state lobbying laws, was tied to the Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and used taxpayer money to fund their campaigns to seize public lands.
Though he will continue to serve as an unpaid member of the American Lands Council executive committee, Ivory is joining the FIA’s “Free the Lands” project, a joint initiative between Federalism in Action and The American Lands Council Foundation.
This new “Free the Lands” project sits at the confluence of Koch funding, anti-government ideology, and land seizure activists and militants. The graphic below illustrates this web of funding, resources, and staff.
Federalism in Action was launched a few years ago by two groups: State Policy Network and State Budget Solutions (SBS). Because FIA is a new organization, its funding sources are not yet public. However, according to IRS filings, State Budget Solutions received money through the Donors Capital Fund, an organization known for cloaking the sources of funding which it distributes, and is sometimes referred to as a Koch “ATM”. The SBS leadership recently joined ALEC and Ken Ivory is listed as one of SBS’s senior policy fellows. The group “works to make its vision … a reality … through the project Federalism In Action.”
Also supporting the Free the Lands Project: the American Lands Council Foundation, the tax-exempt non-profit arm of the American Lands Council. Upon announcing the departure of Ken Ivory from ALC’s presidency, the group named Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder as its CEO. Fielder is Montana’s leading figure in the land seizure movement and has proposed legislation that would require the federal government to cede ownership of all national forests and public lands in Montana to the state. The bill was unpopular and and swiftly vetoed by Montana Governor Steve Bullock.
Fielder’s selection as ALC’s CEO suggests that the group is tightening its ties with the violent anti-government elements of the land seizure movement that is represented by Cliven Bundy and his sons. Fielder’s land seizure efforts and campaign for Montana State Senate, for example, werevocally supported by a Militia of Montana organization that is run by white supremacist John Trochmann. In a recent blog post Fielder also expressed her support for the Bundys and the Oregon militants by referring to them fondly as “cowboys” and “protesters” performing “an act of civil disobedience” and bringing “new light to the widespread problems of a distant federal bureaucracy in control of local land management decisions.”
It remains to be seen whether the Koch network will be able to lift the failing efforts of the Bundys, Ken Ivory, and Jennifer Fielder to seize and sell public lands. If nothing else, expanded Koch backing may help the land seizure movement attract the endorsement of more national politicians who are competing for the Koch brothers’ endorsement and contributions. Last week, for example, Texas Senator Ted Cruz promised to be “vigorously committed to transferring as much federal land as humanly possible back to the states”.
Still, the Bundy brothers and their political allies face long odds in their quest. Proposals to transfer national public lands to state control have been shown to be unconstitutional, costly to states, and deeply unpopular with western voters. And while a wholesale privatization of public lands may benefit the Koch brothers and other oil, gas, and coal interests, new research shows that protecting national public lands has actually resulted in big economic gains for many rural economies.
Jenny Rowland is the Research and Advocacy Associate for the Public Lands Project at Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @jennyhrowland. Matt Lee-Ashley is a Senior Fellow with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. Follow him on Twitter @MLeeAshley.
This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. ‘Like’ CAP Action on Facebook and ‘follow’ us on Twitter
The recent Cliven Bundy debacle in Nevada put a national spotlight on the long-running, and long-failing, effort by right-wing Western legislators to seize federal public lands and either turn them over to the states or sell them to the highest bidder.
While the renewal of this so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion” has thus far been carried out with limited resources by part-time legislators like State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-UT), new research shows that its leaders are now using taxpayer money from at least 42 counties in nine Western states to advance an aggressive and coordinated campaign to seize America’s public lands and national forests for drilling, mining, and logging.
According to a ThinkProgress analysis, the American Lands Council (ALC) — an organization created to help states to claim ownership of federal lands — has collected contributions of taxpayer money from government officials in 18 counties in Utah, 10 counties in Nevada, four counties in Washington, three counties in Arizona, two counties in Oregon, two counties in New Mexico, and one county in Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming. In total, county-level elected officials have already paid the ALC more than $200,000 in taxpayer money. A list of these counties and their “membership levels” can be seen on the ALC website.
Since its inception in 2012, the ALC has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative front group backed by the oil and gas industry and billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over federally owned national forests and public lands to Western states. So far, Utah is the only state to have signed a law calling for the seizure of federal lands, but Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have passed bills to study the idea and further action is expected in statehouses during 2015 legislative sessions.
Legal experts report that Utah’s law, and similar bills being advanced by ALC and ALEC are in clear violation of Article IV of the Constitution, are in conflict with the laws that established Western states, and would be overturned if ever tested in federal court.
As the American Lands Council has grown in influence and resources, its activities have received new scrutiny. ALC President Ken Ivory, for example, reportedly earned more than $40,000 from the organization in 2012 (his salary for 2013 has not yet been disclosed). According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Ivory’s wife, Becky, also receives payments from the ALC.
A recent fundraising email obtained by ThinkProgress also shows that at least one ALC member, Washington County, Utah Commissioner Alan Gardner, is using his government title and government email account to raise money for ALC’s lobbying efforts and training of political candidates.
The fundraising solicitation that was sent from Gardner’s official government email address on June 13 asks county governments to contribute $1,000 to become a “Bronze” member, $5,000 to become a “Silver” member, or $25,000 to become a “Gold” member of the ALC. Gardner confirmed to ThinkProgress that he was the author of the email.
The fundraising solicitation says that up to $100,000 will be spent by ALC on a “Campaign Project” aimed at equipping candidates for federal, state, and county office with “materials and resources to build broad based Knowledge and Courage to compel Congress to honor its promise to us and our children to transfer title to the public lands….” Gardner’s email also reports that the funds will be used for lobbyists, a legal team, polling, and engaging the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.
ALC’s use of county funds adds to the growing cost to taxpayers of the right-wing land seizure movement. The state of Utah, for example, has already spent more than $500,000 to study a takeover of federal land and has set aside an additional $3 million for legal fees to fight the federal government in court. In Idaho, when the Attorney General’s office questioned the legality of seizing federal lands, legislators in the state spent more than$20,000 on private counsel. In Nevada, a federal land seizure study cost taxpayers more than $66,000, while a special task force to study the issue in Wyoming cost taxpayers$30,000.
In addition to using taxpayer funds to advance unconstitutional bills to seize federal lands, the ALC also relies on financial support from the mining industry and fossil fuel interest groups. Americans for Prosperity, for example — another group financed by the Koch brothers — is listed as a “Bronze Member” of ALC. Mesa Exploration, a mining company whose recent proposal to build a potash mine in an area that the Donner Party crossed in 1846 was recently nixed by federal land managers, is also listed as a “Bronze Member” on ALC’s website.
Matt Lee-Ashley is a senior fellow and director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow him on Twitter at @MLeeAshley.
This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.
Knowing that HR 2824, the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America bill, would be coming up for a vote this week, I decided to write to Rep. Amodei to express my concerns regarding this onerous bill:
Dear Rep. Mark Amodei:
I strongly oppose passage of HR2824, the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America. This bill would misdirect limited resources and limit State discretion in regulating industries within their borders, stomping the crap out of any future “State’s Rights” argument you might wish to make. The bill requires State surface coal mining regulatory agencies to implement the 2008 Stream Buffer Zone Rule for a mandatory implementation period. In case you missed it, that rules does NOT adequately protect drinking water, nor does it protect watersheds from strip mining.
We’ve just see a few massive spills in streams that supply drinking water, yet HR2824 would limit each of those State’s abilities to tailor stream safeguards or to even maintain their currently adopted standards. For all the time Republicans harp about needless regulatory and legal uncertainty, this bill is a quintessential example for both. But worst of all, HR2824 requires States to waste significant taxpayer dollars adopting a rule that has been vacated by a Federal court.
The Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is currently developing a proposed Stream Protection Rule that provides for responsible development while protecting our communities and environment. Let them do their jobs. Updates in the proposed rule will reflect the significant technological and scientific advances in mining practices that avoid, minimize, and mitigate environmental damage from coal mining.
HR2824 does not adequately address the community, environmental, and health impacts of strip mining. And, if that isn’t bad enough, HR 2824 actually undermines efforts to better support public health, revenue generation and job creation in the Nation’s coal-producing regions.
Please vote NO when this bill comes to the floor for a vote.
So much for that. My effort, once again, was in vain. The vote was taken today, and Rep. Amodei voted ‘Aye,’ en bloc with the Republiban majority.