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You’re not allowed to talk climate change in Zinke’s Interior Department

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last month reportedly summoned the superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park to his office to order him to stop tweeting about climate change using the park’s Twitter handle. The staffer “got a trip to the woodshed,” according to a source who spoke to The Hill. Instead of supporting an attempt by park staff to shed light on a critical threat to public land, Zinke told Superintendent David Smith to shut up.

The Trump administration’s attempts to scrub federal government websites of information about climate change is by now well documented. The president’s nomination of science-denying shills for the fossil fuel and chemical industries, including the EPA administrator and his deputies, has stacked the administration with individuals who put corporate profits or ideological beliefs above public health and our kids’ future.

{mosads}But Zinke’s apparent mandate to stop talking about the impacts of climate change on our national parks is an outright abdication of his duty to protect and manage the irreplaceable public lands and historical sites in his care — places that belong to all of us.


A warming climate is changing the defining features of some of our most cherished parks; the glaciers are disappearing in Glacier National Park, and in Joshua Tree National Park, the changing climate is a major threat to the iconic Joshua Tree itself. Even the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, the Jamestown settlement in Virginia and Florida’s Everglades are at risk from rising seas

Sadly, muzzling his own staff is not the first indication that Zinke intends to ignore the mission of his agency, and even to work against it (except where it interferes with his future political ambitions). After telling allies he’d be a champion for public lands, those same groups say he’s gone back on his word since taking the helm at Interior.

President Trump recently accepted Zinke’s recommendation that he dramatically shrink the acreage of at least two national monuments, removing protections that could see destructive drilling and mining on extraordinary public lands filled with sacred and ancient Native American sites and artifacts.

This isn’t just bad policy, it’s bad politics. Americans in the West are conservationists who support preserving our wondrous public lands for hunting, fishing, hiking and camping, not selling them off for more destructive drilling and mining. In Utah, polls show the state’s residents support maintaining drilling and mining bans in majestic places like Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears – two national monuments Trump and Zinke want to shrink by millions of acres. 

This is why Zinke still pretends to be a conservationist in Montana. Even as he eviscerates national monuments elsewhere, Zinke favors a new national monument designation in Montana, according to Aaron Weiss, spokesman for the Center for Western Priorities. “Everything that Secretary Zinke does in Montana is 180 degrees from what he does to the rest of the country,” Weiss told ThinkProgress

Zinke knows Montanans rely on protected public lands to boost the state’s outdoor economy, and he’s betting the state’s voters won’t punish him in the future for pursuing an agenda on the national level that wouldn’t be acceptable at home. 

Next fall the American people will decide whether the Trump administration and its allies in Congress will be able to continue their attack on public lands, our environment and the scientific reality of climate change. That is when the Montana voters can express their support for strong environmental safeguards and continued protection of public lands by rejecting candidates who support Trump’s and Zinke’s reckless agenda. 

Zinke’s silly Twitter restrictions won’t be able to hide the fact that climate change is a threat to our national parks. But they will highlight that he has thrown his lot in with the science-deniers and oil lobbyists who are working against common-sense efforts to fight for our future, and that he is out of step with most Montanans and the rest of the country.

Kevin S. Curtis is executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund.

Tags Donald Trump Joshua Tree National Park national parks Ryan Zinke Ryan Zinke

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