Natural Resources Committee schedules vote to subpoena Interior

Natural Resources Committee schedules vote to subpoena Interior
© Greg Nash

The House Natural Resources Committee will vote Thursday on whether to subpoena the Department of the Interior after numerous requests for information have been ignored.

Thursday’s vote would grant Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) subpoena power as well as outline the scope of what the committee will seek from Interior.

But that discussion is likely to ignite tension with GOP members, who are not eager to agree to a far-reaching resolution.

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“This is a change to our rules mid-process intended to wipe out input of minority members and take committee decision making behind closed doors," Ranking Member Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopTrump signs major conservation bill into law Overnight Energy: House passes major conservation bill, sending to Trump | EPA finalizes rule to speed up review of industry permits House passes major conservation bill, sending it to Trump's desk MORE (R-Utah) said in a statement.

"It’s an unprecedented power grab that, if adopted, provides unchecked subpoena authority over private citizens and agencies.”

The committee’s years-long beef with Interior includes 25 formal information requests to the department, of which “only three have received complete or nearly complete responses.”

“This is the same authority most other committees give their chairs at the beginning of each Congress as a matter of course. We’re just bringing ourselves up to par with where many of our colleagues are already," Adam Sarvana, the committee's spokesman, said in a statement to The Hill.

"The ranking member will be given notice before any individual subpoena goes out the door. The issue here is the unprecedented Trump administration stonewalling that got us to this point, which Republicans on this Committee have never seemed interested in addressing.”

At a September hearing, lawmakers used screens in the hearing room to flash fully redacted pages, blurred images and examples where the committee was given limited versions of documents that were given to other requesters in full. 

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An Interior spokeswoman told The Hill it has completed nine requests and will turn over the rest of the documents on a rolling basis. Just last week the department touted its productive relationship with the committee.

"Chairman Grijalva's long-desired intention to issue unwarranted subpoenas is nothing more than political grandstanding and a lowly partisan attack against the Trump Administration. The Department has been more cooperative with the committee than any in history — turning over an unprecedented number of documents and even extending multiple invitations for personal visits with the Secretary, none of which have been accepted,” a spokesperson for Interior said last week.

The longstanding rift between the department and the committee has led to some bipartisan frustration in the past.

“There are many of us on the other side of the aisle that may not share the Democrats’ policy positions, but do recognize the role of oversight, and are frustrated when legitimate requests, bipartisan requests, are made and not answered,” Rep. Tom McClintockThomas (Tom) Milller McClintockHouse votes to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Cook shifts 20 House districts toward Democrats Democrats start cracking down on masks for lawmakers MORE (R-Calif.) said at a hearing to review issues with getting information from Interior. 

Grijalva in particular has expressed interest in subpoenaing the department over its decision to move most D.C.-based Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees out West. 

“The hearing validated some things we had been considering and also justifies us going further in the consideration of a subpoena to get those reorganization papers. I think that’s the next step,” he said in September after a hearing with BLM acting Director William Pendley.

Updated at 5:30 p.m.