Ryan Zinke

Interior held back FOIA’d documents after political screenings
Watchdog: ‘Are there bad actors at these agencies that are willfully ignoring the law?’

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has defended his department’s protocols on Freedom of Information Act requests, but watchdogs say the process is rife with political considerations and run outside the law. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Documents sought under the Freedom of Information Act were withheld by the Interior Department under a practice that allowed political appointees to review the requests, internal emails and memos show.

The policy allowed high-ranking officials to screen documents sought by news organizations, advocacy groups and whistleblowers, including files set to be released under court deadlines. In some cases, the documents’ release was merely delayed. In other cases, documents were withheld after the reviews.

On heels of Senate loss, Montana’s Matt Rosendale running for Congress — again
Republican state auditor lost to Sen. Jon Tester by 4 points last fall

Matt Rosendale, Montana state auditor, is running for the state’s at-large House seat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Matt Rosendale, the Montana state auditor, announced Monday that he’s seeking the Republican nomination for the state’s at-large House seat. 

Because Montana’s member of Congress represents the whole state, Rosendale will be fighting for the same voters he did last cycle, when he won a four-way GOP primary for Senate and then lost to Democratic incumbent Jon Tester by less than 4 points. The House seat opened after GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte declared a bid for governor. 

A Trump administration review of mining bans has green groups worried
Environmental groups say they worry the report could give the White House a rationale for opening federal lands to new mineral extraction

U.S. Department of Commerce building in Washington. A new Commerce Department report has created worry among environmental groups, who say the report could give the Trump administration a rationale for opening federal lands to new mineral extraction. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A Commerce Department report about U.S. reliance on foreign sources of minerals deemed essential for national security has stirred fears among environmental groups that the Trump administration may lift existing bans on new mining claims on public lands, including sites near the Grand Canyon.

Commerce recommended in the report released Tuesday that the Interior and Agriculture Departments complete a “thorough review” of all such bans — also called withdrawals — and develop “appropriate measures to reduce unnecessary impacts that they may have on mineral exploration, development and other activities.”

Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte may run for governor, opening up at-large House seat
Republicans haven’t won governor’s mansion since 2000

Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., might join a crowded Republican race for Montana governor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte, Montana’s lone House member, is planning to announce a 2020 run for governor, according to the state’s MTN News network.

Gianforte, who was first elected to the House in a 2017 special election, would be the sixth Republican to enter the race to succeed Democratic incumbent Steve Bullock, who is term-limited and running for president.

Bernhardt defends Interior public records review policy
Bernhardt said the so-called ‘awareness review’ policy was legal and ‘very long-standing in the department’

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt testifies during a Senate Appropriations on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the FY2020 budget proposal for the Interior Department in Dirksen Building on Wednesday, May 22, 2019. Bernhardt said to lawmakers the so-called “awareness review” policy was legal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt defended on Wednesday the agency’s policy allowing politically appointed officials to review and comment on public records requests that relate to them.

Appearing before a Senate appropriations subcommittee to testify about his department’s budget, Bernhardt said the so-called “awareness review” policy was legal.

Interior Department policy let political appointees review FOIA requests
So-called awareness review process could expose department to legal action

A public records request for emails between a National Park Service official and Lolita Zinke, above, wife of former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, was originally estimated to potentially yield 96 pages of communication. It ended up being 16 pages long after being put through the awareness review process.  (Scott Olson/Getty Images file photo)

The Interior Department has for about a year allowed political appointees to weigh in on which federal records are released to the public, creating delays that could violate open records law and expose the department to legal action.

“If political officials are becoming involved in the process and as a result of that causes the agency to not comply with its obligations” under the Freedom of Information Act, “that is a serious problem,” said Adam Marshall, an attorney for the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press.

The Pennsylvania special election you haven’t heard about
Voters in 12th District will pick a replacement for Tom Marino next week

Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., resigned in January shortly after being sworn in. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

It wasn’t that long ago that a special election in Pennsylvania attracted national attention and millions of dollars. But this year, the race in the state’s 12th District has flown under the radar.

Voters head to the polls next Tuesday to replace Republican Tom Marino, who resigned just shortly after the new Congress began. This election hasn’t captured the national spotlight — a marked shift from 14 months ago, when the special election in Pennsylvania’s old 18th District grabbed headlines. Democrat Conor Lamb pulled off an upset there even though President Donald Trump carried the district by 20 points in 2016.

Trump seeks weaker protections, as 1 million species face extinction
A new UN report says the 1 million plants and animals identified, could be extinct within decades, amid a ‘mass extinction event’

Adaeze, an 18-month-old cheetah, from the Leo Zoo, in Greenwich, Ct., stares at news photographers following a briefing on "Combating Threats to the Cheetah, Africa's Most Endangered Big Cat, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, April 25, 2016 A new UN report says the 1 million plants and animals identified, could be extinct within decades, it says, amid a “mass extinction event” (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo).

Humans have pushed about 1 million varieties of plants and animals to the brink of extinction, according to a new United Nations report that arrives as congressional Republicans and the Trump administration try to diminish endangered species protections in the United States.

Many of the species identified in the report could be extinct within decades, the report says, amid a “mass extinction event” caused by humans putting more flora and fauna on the edge of eradication than ever before in their history. By transforming land and waterways, exploiting organisms, polluting, shifting species’ habitats and fueling climate change, humanity has eroded nature dramatically since the Industrial Revolution, according to the authors.

Offshore drilling ban proposed by bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers
The ban would bar oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coasts and request the Coast Guard to identify areas that risk oil spills

Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and Mark Meadows, R-N.C., are seen during a House Oversight and Reform Committee business meeting in Rayburn Building on January 29, 2019. Wasserman Schultz and a bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers are pushing to ban drilling off their coast. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers introduced a measure to permanently ban drilling off their coast, the latest sign resistance may be swift among coastal Republicans if the administration tries to open their states’ waters to oil and gas exploration.

The legislation introduced Monday by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., would bar oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coasts and call on the Coast Guard to determine what areas face heightened risk from oil spills. It was introduced with support from Republican Reps. Vern Buchanan and Matt Gaetz, a close ally of President Donald Trump.

Bernhardt nears confirmation, but Capitol Hill isn’t finished with him
Grijalva wants acting Interior chief to testify on at least two different oversight probes

David Bernhardt appears likely to be confirmed as Interior secretary this week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt will likely be confirmed in the Senate by a comfortable margin this week — but that could be his easiest day on Capitol Hill for a while.

The Senate voted 56-41 Wednesday evening to end debate on the nomination after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier in the day that he expected the chamber to be “voting to confirm” Bernhardt “later this week.” And while some coastal Republicans have raised concerns about the Interior Department’s plans for opening all U.S. coasts to oil and gas drilling, there doesn’t appear to be enough GOP opposition to derail confirmation.