The DOI pushed to remove climate change and conservation from internal consideration by rescinding four science-based policies.
What Happened: The Department of Interior continues sidelining science in decision making – this time through a push to remove climate change and conservation from internal consideration by rescinding four science-based policies.
Why It Matters: Removing these guides hampers the ability of managers to take into account scientific evidence relevant to resource management. By rescinding these policies, the Department of Interior not only impedes its ability to protect public lands, it also creates unnecessary and harmful confusion.
On December 22, 2017, Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt quietly issued Secretarial Order 3360, which rescinded multiple science-based policies on climate change and conservation. These changes undercut the Department of Interior’s (DOI) ability to adhere to its mission to conserve and manage the Nation’s natural resources.
The order revokes a Departmental Manual chapter on climate change, a Departmental Manual chapter on landscape-scale mitigation policy, a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manual section on mitigation, and a 2016 BLM handbook on mitigation. The order additionally directs the head of BLM to reassess the BLM Draft Regional Mitigation Strategy for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska as well as directs BLM to reissue a separate Bush-era guidance on offsite mitigation.
According to Bernhardt’s order, these policies were “inconsistent with the goals” of a previous DOI order on American energy independence issued earlier that year by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. That order—Secretarial Order 3349—implemented President Donald Trump’s executive order on “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” by rescinding a 2013 Secretary’s Order on mitigation and by ordering review of mitigation and climate change policies.
Bernhardt’s Christmastime order, however, does not mention how these policies would have interfered with American energy development. Rather, the rollback of these policies appears to serve more broadly to demonstrate the Trump administration’s dedication to removing from government policies any mentions of climate change or environmental effects.
BLM’s handbook, for example, repeatedly indicated climate change is a “foreseeable changing circumstance,” while the Departmental Manual chapter on climate change directed that DOI “will use the best available science to increase understanding of climate change impacts, inform decisionmaking, and coordinate an appropriate response to impacts on land, water, wildlife, cultural and tribal resources, and other assets.”
Zinke, meanwhile, has publicly expressed his disdain for the idea of mitigation. In June 2017, he noted at a speech before the Western Governor’s Association that the description of “extortion” fit a situation in which a power line company had to pay a major fee to offset a project’s impact. Zinke followed up by noting that “I call it un-American.”
In addition to underscoring the administration’s dedication to removing science-based policies at the expense of public health and the environment, rescinding these policies more practically serves to sow confusion. As DOI is still required under the National Environmental Protection Agency to mitigate the effects of development and consider climate change, there’s no clear answer as to how developers and government officials should act moving forward, decreasing predictability and opening up room for time-consuming legal challenges.
Overall, Bernhardt’s order is simply another in a long line of DOI attacks on science. In July 2018, news broke that DOI was rapidly moving forward with its plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. The Trump administration gave a contracting firm three months to complete the scoping process for an environmental review, even though those reports typically take two to three years, according to a former Fish and Wildlife Service official.