The Monumental Problem with the "Treasured Landscapes" Memo

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Special ARRA News Bulletin on H. Res. 1254.
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On May 5th, the House Resources Committee voted down a motion (by a margin of 22-20) to report favorably H. Res. 1254 to the full House.  Instead, the committee decided to send the resolution to the full House without a recommendation.  This is an important distinction because without a favorable recommendation, Speaker Pelosi and her team are unlikely to bring up H. Res. 1254 for a vote on the House floor.

H.R. Res. 1254 was introduced by Rep. Hastings and Bishop because the Department of the Interior (DOI) was not forthcoming with supplying information to the Congress surrounding the set of recommendations for Treasured Landscapes and for the potential designation of National Monuments under the Antiquities Act.  Less than 24 hours before the vote was to take place in the committee, the Department of the Interior released 383 pages of documents and indicated it was withholding at least 2,016 pages of other documents.  Many of the documents released were emails between Administration principals discussing treasured landscapes; however, the attachments to the emails were mostly left undisclosed.  These attachments, including one called "Treasured Landscapes Discussion Paper," likely have more substantive information about what was actually being considered yet they have not been released.

This whole controversy started when pages 15-21 of an internal (Not for Release) DOI memorandum was leaked.   The partial memorandum documented that talks were ongoing within the Administration regarding the possibility of creating at least 14 additional National Monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act.  Secretary Salazar immediately characterized the document as simply a memo that came out of a "brainstorming session" within the Department. 

At a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Secretary Salazar responded to a question about whether these plans were being pursued at the request of the White House, by saying, "Let me assure you there is no direction from the White House on any of this for the Department of Interior.  Zero, nada, nothing. It just isn't there."

The documents released on May 4th provide a glimpse into the internal workings of the Department of the Interior and the preparatory work surrounding the potential designation of Treasured Landscapes and new National Monument areas. It seems like a more far reaching effort than a simple "brainstorming session."  Rather, the work extended over a period of several months and the federal agencies involved in the preparatory work included the Bureau of Fish and Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.

The documents that DOI recently released make it clear that White House involvement either existed or was about to exist at some stage of the monument issue.  We are not suggesting that White House involvement is inappropriate.  After all, the President does head up our Executive Branch.  And under the Antiquities Act, it is the President who would make any National Monument designation.  Further, there is evidence that national environmental groups were solicited for designation ideas as well, so the Secretary's description of simple "brainstorming session" seems more like a full fledged planning process.

The Department's release of 328 pages of documents relating to the "Treasured Landscape" memo has created more questions than answers. 
* For example, why is DOI still refusing to release pages 1-14 of the original memorandum? 
* What could possibly be contained in those first 14 pages that the Department doesn't want to see the light of day?
* Were there pages of the original memo after page 22 that have yet to be released? 
* How extensive was the effort to involve environmental groups in developing these ideas?
* Why is the Department saying it is not obligated under the Freedom of Information Act to release 2,000 other pages of related documents to the Congress?  
* How could a little "brainstorming" session generated almost 2,500 pages of documents?
* Why haven't the attachments to many of the emails been released?
* Designating National Monuments clearly has nothing to do with national security so why the secrecy? 
* What could possibly be in these other documents that might prove embarrassing if one is to believe the Secretary that the original memo was simply the result of a "brainstorming session" in the Department?

In the coming weeks, ARRA will continue to focus on this story. 

 

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