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House task force on environmental justice urges more diversity at Interior

House task force on environmental justice urges more diversity at Interior
© Greg Nash

Members of a House task force on environmental justice are sending a letter to Interior Department Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior shortlist puts focus on New Mexico lawmakers | Progressives criticize Biden transition over volunteer who represented Exxon | Trump DOJ appointees stalled investigation into Zinke: report Trump DOJ appointees stalled investigation into Zinke: report GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte wins Montana governor's race MORE Wednesday criticizing him for recently reported comments on diversity, urging him to better use diverse resources at the department.

In the letter, the group of 31 Democratic leaders on the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force call the reports that Zinke disparaged the importance of diversity "disturbing." 

"These comments are particularly troubling because as a the Secretary of the Interior, it is important that you set the tone that diverse voices are critical to the success of DOI," reads the letter. "As a public official, you have the responsibility to ensure that both your agency and the public lands it administers are welcoming and inclusive to all people."

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Members highlighted in the letter various programs within Interior and the National Park Service that aim to increase diversity, making the point that diversity is important for national park experiences as well as the bottom line and that such programs should continue to be hailed.

"With continued investment in focused initiatives such as Find Your Park and the Spanish-language Encuentra Tu Parque, inclusive and intentional engagement of communities of color will guarantee higher numbers of visitors, an increase in cultural and natural stewards and economic growth," the letter reads.

The letter, lead by Reps. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalGovernment used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Inequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift Biden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far MORE (D-Wash.), A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinDemocrats to determine leaders after disappointing election Progressive group slams Biden White House pick over tie to fossil fuel industry OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden pledges carbon-free power by 2035 in T environment plan | Trump administration has been underestimating costs of carbon pollution, government watchdog finds | Trump to move forward with rollback of bedrock environmental law MORE (D-Va.) and Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), follows reports at the end of March that Zinke had on a number of occasions told colleagues that diversity was not important. The report also came after a year of major structural changes within the department, including a number of re-assignments that moved around many employees of color. 

"The Department of the Interior and National Park Service, which showcase American’s rich culture, are best able to forward that mission when the men and women who staff that agency are themselves diverse," Rep. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownLeft seeks to influence Biden picks while signaling unity House Democrats back slower timeline for changing Confederate base names OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Esper reportedly working with lawmakers to strip Confederate names from bases | Enemy attacks in Afghanistan jump by 50 percent, watchdog says | Fort Hood soldier arrested, charged in Chelsea Cheatham killing MORE (D-Md.), a member on the task force, said. "The department needs to reflect the diversity that is America."

Brown said the task force members hope to get a response from Zinke and to continue to engage with him on the topic. 

"I will be asking him about it in every opportunity I get," said Brown.

Zinke is appearing on the Hill Wednesday to discuss his agency's fiscal 2019 budget in front of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.