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 ZinkeInterior gains new watchdog The Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks BLM issues final plan for reduced Utah monument 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."

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 JayapalPelosi woos progressives on prescription drug pricing plan Democrats ignore Asian American and Pacific Islander voters at their peril Overnight Health Care: Watchdog details severe trauma suffered by separated children | Judge approves B CVS-Aetna merger | House Dem Caucus chair backs 'Medicare for All' MORE (D-Wash.), A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinRacial politics roil Democratic Party CBC lawmakers rip Justice Democrats for targeting black lawmakers for primaries Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support 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 BrownAssault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment The Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question 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.