Interior Department Disregards Public Comments, Analysis Suggests

Jan 17, 2020
Originally published on January 15, 2020 4:10 pm

Update, Jan. 15 10:11 a.m.: The Department of Interior has provided a statement, which is now included in this story.

The Trump Administration’s Interior Department has largely ignored public comment on proposed rule changes, according to an analysis from the Center for Western Priorities.

The conservation advocacy group looked at ten proposals from Interior, including the easing of offshore drilling regulations and Endangered Species Act protections. What it found was that while more than 95% of public comments were opposed to the changes, the agency still moved forward on most of them.

The group’s policy director, Jesse Prentice-Dunn, says the findings reflect “who’s being given a seat at the table.”

“You’re seeing corporations, trade associations, politically connected folks and lobbyists—those are the folks having their input really considered and taken into account,” he said.

The organization looked at proposals that garnered more than 500 public comments on the federal website regulations.gov followed by a final rule or policy. Ten rules met the criteria and were included in the analysis. While the 10 rules were opposed by between 95.9% and 99.8% of commenters, Interior advanced eight of them.

“In almost every instance where extractive industries expressed general support for a policy rollback, the Interior Department moved forward with rules broadly opposed by the public,” the report states.

Prentice-Dunn says Interior’s push for energy dominance is locking the West into all-too-familiar boom-and-bust economic cycles.

“We’ve been beholden to cycles of booms and busts with oil and gas and mining, and right now, we’re kind of clinging to that cycle, this Interior Department is, instead of looking at how to build a diverse economy for the future,” he said.

Federal agencies are able to withhold public comments that are deemed “near duplicate examples of a mass-mail campaign,” meaning not every comment is represented in the final docket. Prentice-Dunn says many of the comments were similar, but the overall analysis is reflective of the comments made available by the Department of Interior.

The Department of Interior provided the following statement: "The report is best described charitably as 'arbitrary and capricious.' The Department's rulemakings follow federal law and consider all relevant information submitted by commenters. For this special interest group to suggest otherwise clearly demonstrates either an ignorance of the rulemaking process or a ploy to undermine outcomes that fulfill the Department's mission and benefits for the American people."

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center For the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2020 KUNR Public Radio. To see more, visit KUNR Public Radio.