Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke may have something of a mutiny on his hands.
A bipartisan group of 19 Governors of western states have issued a statement protesting Zinke’s plan to reorganize the interior into 13 environmental zones rather than by state. It would carve up the country using natural boundaries like rivers and mountain ranges.
This would completely upend the balance of power in the department’s regional management offices.
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The group of Governors asked Zinke to include them on any planned changes to the department’s organization in April of 2017. As of Feb. 1, they still hadn’t heard back from him.
Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said the governors “are welcome to share their ideas and opinions with the secretary or their staff are also encouraged to reach out to the secretary’s staff.”
The Governors took that less as an invitation and more as an insult.
“Western governors expect to be treated as the chief executives of a sovereign level of government, not as stakeholders,” said the governor association’s executive director Jim Ogsbury.
The governors represent South Dakota, Hawaii, Alaska, Colorado, California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Wyoming, Idaho, Nebraska, and North Dakota.
They asked Zinke to explain how this proposed change would affect how the department of the interior would interact with state agencies.
Under the plan, some states would be carved up into two or three different regions. The Governors issued a list of ten questions to Zinke in their letter, including one asking why this was necessary at all. The group includes 12 GOP governors, 6 Democrats, and 1 independent.
States like California are leaders in environmental policy, wielding significant power at the state level with agencies like the California Coastal Commission. If state agencies are no longer empowered to coordinate at the federal level, environmental protections they issue could be substantially weakened.
This is an obvious and transparent attempt by Zinke to dilute environmental protections for public lands by using his department to carve them up and sell access to the highest corporate bidder.