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Coalition Calls on Interior Secretary Zinke to Condemn Attacks on Transparency, Defend Democracy

Date
February 28, 2018
Contact
Jeremy Nichols, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Climate + Energy
Washington, D.C.—A coalition of leading public lands, climate, wildlife, and government transparency organizations today called on Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, to condemn attempts by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to weaken American freedom of information laws.

In a letter to the Secretary, dozens of organizations from across the country demanded Zinke push back against recent recommendations by the Bureau of Land Management to amend the Freedom of Information Act. The agency has suggested the Act be amended to make it more difficult for citizens to access government information and be granted public interest fee waivers.

The Bureau of Land Management manages vast expanses of public lands and minerals in the U.S., mainly in the American West.

Signatories to the letter include local, regional, and national public interest groups who utilize the Freedom of Information Act and often engage the Bureau of Land Management around public land and resource management.

The recommendations were revealed in a report made public earlier this month and were part of suite of environmental, health, and public interest rollbacks advocated by the Bureau of Land Management. In their letter, the groups implored Secretary Zinke to push back against the agency, stating:

We demand that you immediately and publicly state that the U.S. Department of the Interior and the agencies within it do not support changes to the Freedom of Information Act, or other initiatives that would erode transparency of federal government operations and activities. Further, we call on you to immediately direct the BLM to rescind its recommendations that the Freedom of Information Act be amended.

The coalition continued:

The notion that the Freedom of Information Act is an obstacle to public lands and resource management insinuates that American engagement in the activities and operations of their federal government is a problem. It is an affront to the bedrock of democracy that the agency would suggest asking Congress to make changes to the law in order to limit requests for information, impose burdensome fees, and otherwise seek changes that are clearly meant to stymie, not promote, public engagement.

Today’s letter comes as Secretary Zinke and the Trump Administration are increasingly stonewalling information requests and balking at transparency. A recent report by the FOIA Project found the Administration has faced a major uptick in lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act due to illegal delays in responding.

In fiscal year 2017, the Interior Department actually became the third most sued federal agency under the Freedom of Information Act, facing a 62% increase in lawsuits.

Statements from many of the signatories to today’s letter can be viewed here >>