Committee Designed To Protect Bears Ears Monument Now Comprised of Individuals Intent on Shrinking It
By Lacking Balance, Committee Could Violate Federal Law
Washington, D.C.— Today, Democracy Forward requested that the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior investigate whether Secretary David Bernhardt violated federal law by stacking the Bears Ears National Monument Advisory Committee with individuals determined to strip territory and critical protections from the Utah monument. The Committee is explicitly tasked with providing recommendations for conserving the Bears Ears Monument as described in its founding Proclamation, but Secretary Bernhardt has filled the majority of Committee seats with opponents of public lands conservation generally, and the Bears Ears Monument specifically.
“The Bears Ears Committee was designed to protect a treasure of the American West and stacking it with opponents of the monument could violate federal law,” said Democracy Forward Senior Counsel Travis Annatoyn. “An immediate investigation is clearly warranted.”
The Committee is subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires among other things that committees be fairly balanced and contain provisions to ensure that committees are not unduly influenced by the financial interests of its members.
The Bears Ears Monument was established in 2016 by Presidential Proclamation, which also called for the creation of the Committee as a “fair and balanced representation” of interested stakeholders, including State and local governments, tribes, and recreational users. In April 2019, the Trump administration appointed the Committee’s membership and installed a majority that had been openly critical of the Monument’s creation and supportive of President Trump’s decision to shrink its territory by 85%.
In violation of FACA and its implementing regulations, at least three of the administration’s appointees have financial conflicts of interests with BLM’s stewardship of public lands, such as the Bears Ears Monument, because they or their immediate family members hold public grazing allotments. The administration has not released these members’ required ethics disclosures.
Committee members recently endorsed a management plan for the Monument which contains fewer protections for Bears Ears resources. The plan is widely opposed by conservation and tribal advocates, and is inconsistent with the Committee’s charter.
Secretary Bernhardt has a questionable record of compliance with federal advisory committee laws. In August, a federal judge ruled that the Trump administration unlawfully formed the Royalty Policy Committee—a body stacked with fossil fuel representatives—and blocked the Interior Department from using the Committee’s recommendations. In late September, a federal judge in a separate case rejected the Trump administration’s efforts to shield the Department of Interior’s unlawful trophy hunting council from judicial scrutiny.
Democracy Forward requests that the Department of Interior Inspector General investigate whether Secretary Bernhardt’s Bears Ears Monument Committee violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act and/or constitutes the improper use of his office.
The letter was sent on October 7, 2019 to the Inspector General of the Interior Department.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.