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Amid Government Shutdown, Trump’s Interior Department Rolls Back Transparency

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Source:  Wildearthguardians.org

Rule Changes Meant to Stymie Public Interest Groups, Undermine Right to Know, Condone Government Secrecy

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UPDATE (12/28/2018):  Interior’s proposed rule was published in today’s Federal Register, you can access it here >>

Although Interior is asking for public comment until January 28, 2019, the agency is not actually capable of receiving and processing comments due to the government shutdown.

Despite a government shutdown, the U.S. Department of the Interior is proposing changes to its transparency regulations that threaten to make it more difficult for Americans to request and obtain records from the federal government.

In a proposed rule slated to be published tomorrow, Interior is calling for sweeping rule changes in order to, in its words, respond to “the unprecedented surge in FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests and litigation.”

Click here to view our annotated version of the most insidious provisions of the proposed rollbacks and how they completely undermine our federal transparency laws.

The proposal is a blatant attack on our democratic right to know.  The Freedom of Information Act is our nation’s bedrock transparency law and it’s meant to ensure Americans have the ability to know what their government is up to.

WildEarth Guardians uses the Freedom of Information Act extensively as we watchdog the Interior Department and other government agencies.  In fact, we post all records we obtain on our website so all Americans have access to information that would otherwise be unavailable.

It’s undeniable there has been a surge in Freedom of Information Act requests and litigation in response to the Trump Administration’s assault on transparency and the public interest.  In fact, the number of lawsuits filed under the Freedom of Information Act has hit record highs under Trump….

Yet Interior’s claim that this is a problem is belied by the fact that the Department utterly flouts the Freedom of Information Act and actively promotes a culture of secrecy, opaqueness, and unaccountability to the American public.

In our experience in dealing with the Interior Department under the Freedom of Information Act, we’ve found the agency regularly ignores deadlines, consistently finds ways to deny access to government records, purposefully drags its feet in responding to requests for information, and refuses to provide the resources and staffing needed to meet its legal obligations under federal transparency law.

To boot, among federal agencies, Interior is one of the worst in terms of making information available online.

It’s no wonder the Department gets sued. Yet rather than truly address the underlying lack of legal compliance and disrespect for transparency, Interior is instead proposing to change the rules.

Without a doubt, the proposed regulatory changes are an assault on transparency. Among the more insidious changes:

Currently, agencies have to honor all records requests, regardless of the amount of times and resources required to search for records. This reflects the fact that the Freedom of Information Act mandates full transparency and does not allow agencies to selectively censor information simply because they believe it would be “hard” to provide records.

This proposal would effectively condone footdragging and deny access to government information. The change would allow agencies to impose baseless “quotas” on information requests.

The Freedom of Information Act requires agencies provide records at no cost to organizations intending to use information to advance the public interest. Although the law requires fee waivers be granted liberally, Interior’s proposed changes would effectively turn the tables on public interest groups.

The new wording would set higher and nearly unattainable criteria, provide more discretion to deny fee waivers, and allow the Department to second-guess claims that information would serve a public interest.

For example, the proposal would allow Interior to deny fee waivers if it deems a request does not “concern discrete, identifiable agency activities, operations, or programs with a connection that is direct and clear, not remote or attenuated.”

This essentially lets the federal government deny fee waivers simply because it believes the requested information isn’t relevant.

Overall, the proposed rule aims to add more subjectivity into the Interior Department’s transparency regulations, clearly intending to give agencies more discretion to deny access to information and to deny fee waivers.

Overall, the changes appear to be blatantly contrary to the Freedom of Information Act. Click here to see our annotated version of the Department’s proposed rule with our comments on how it runs afoul of federal law.

Read the entire article HERE.

 

Opposition Builds To Interior Department Records Purge

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SOURCE:  dcreport.org

Group Says Documents Reveal Efforts to Kill Wild Horses, Land Grabs and Other Outrages

A nonprofit advocating for wild horses, one of the groups opposing a massive proposed document purge at Trump’s Interior Department, said record requests helped the nonprofit learn about a plan to send thousands of wild horses to a tiger refuge in Russia.

“These records are especially important for oversight now that large numbers of wild horses and burros are being ‘adopted’ in larger numbers, and to organizations and to overseas destinations,” wrote Debbie Coffey, vice president of the Wild Horse Freedom Federation. “We will need to access these records in order to ensure that wild horses and burros are not being adopted or sold and ending up in the slaughter pipeline.”

The Trump administration wants to bury science and hide how mining, drilling and logging on public lands devastate our precious natural spaces.

The proposed document purge includes records about endangered species, oil and gas leases, timber sales, dams and land purchases.

The National Archives has said that getting rid of records is standard and has been going on for decades. The schedule’s language gives broad authority to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to destroy records documenting government efforts to protect endangered species and public lands.

“The Trump administration wants to bury science and hide how mining, drilling and logging on public lands devastate our precious natural spaces,” said Meg Townsend, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The federation learned from a document request that the Bureau of Land Management in 2011 under former President Barack Obama considered shipping wild horses to a sanctuary in Siberia where they could be killed and eaten by leopards and tigers.

“Would we pay for shipping to Vladivostok or allow horses to be placed on a sanctuary with known heavy predator population?” asked Karla Bird, an acting division chief.

BLM ultimately decided against sending our nation’s wild horses to Russia to be eaten by tigers.

But in 2017, the bureau again was looking at sending horses to Russia and also to Guyana in South America.

Under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, passed by Congress in 1971 when Republican Richard Nixon was president, the federal government is supposed to manage and protect the herds. Almost 82,000  wild horses and burros roam our nation’s public lands. More than 50,000 others are corralled.

The Trump administration proposed euthanizing or selling “excess animals” in 2017, but Congress kept a ban on slaughtering the animals.

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ACTION BOX/What You Can Do About It

The comment period about the proposal to destroy Interior Department records has ended.

Contact Secretary Ryan Zinke about concerns about keeping records. Call him at 202-208-3100, reach out to him on FacebookTwitter or send an email.

Write: Department of the Interior / 1849 C St., NW / Washington, D.C. 20240

Wild Horse Freedom Foundation can be contacted online.

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You can read articles on dcreport.org HERE.

Department of Interior Wants To Destroy Records of Oil & Gas Leasing, Mining, Wells, Timber Sales and Much More

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Public submission

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Federal agencies don’t keep most of their records forever. At some point, they’re legally allowed to destroy the majority of them.

But when? And which records? That’s up to the agency and the National Archives (with some input from the public, at least in theory).

In an overlooked process that’s been going on for decades, agencies create a “Request for Records Disposition Authority” that gives details about the documents, then proposes when they can be destroyed (e.g., three years after the end of the fiscal year, 50 years after they’re no longer needed, etc.). Occasionally, agencies propose keeping some documents permanently, which means eventually transferring them to the National Archives.

The National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) then “appraises” the agency’s Request for Records Disposition Authority, almost always giving the greenlight.

Around this point, the agency’s request and NARA’s appraisal are announced in the Federal Register. They are not published in the Register, nor are they posted to the Register website (including Regulations.gov). Their existence is simply noted.

Dept. of the Interior is asking for permission to destroy records about oil and gas leases, mining, dams, wells, timber sales, marine conservation, fishing, endangered species, non-endangered species, critical habitats, land acquisition, wild horses & burros and lots more. It’s also wanting to permanently retain a smaller subset of documents in each category, which will be transferred to the National Archives, where they will become harder to access via FOIA.

This is crucial stuff. In the months, years, and decades ahead, if you get “records destroyed” responses, or a vague “no records” response, from NPS, BLM, FWS, BIA, etc., this could be the root cause.

Comment period has been extended to Nov. 23, 2018   READ MORE HERE↓

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James Kleinert and co-writer Kurt Brungardt on their new wild horse documentary (Wed., 8/22/18, on Wild Horse & Burro Radio)

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Bureau of Land Management looks to limit the number of FOIA requests organizations can file with the agency

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If the BLM would raise the livestock grazing fees, even just a little bit, they’d have plenty of money to be transparent. Also, there is little that can possibly “slow down the agency’s decision-making process” since it remains in the dark ages.

Source: muckrock.com

“Media requests only make up a fraction of the total requests agencies receive, but the new policy setting an organizational “cap” on requests could severely hamper the work of journalists – and concerned citizens – trying to use FOIA for its intended purpose.”

Recommendations appear to target media requests, and raise the cost of already prohibitive processing fees

Written by JPat Brown
Edited by Michael Morisy

According to records obtained by the Washington Post, the Bureau of Land Management is recommending new legislation that would limit the number of FOIA requests individuals and agencies could file with the agency, create stricter criteria for fee waivers, as well as increased fees for “search and redaction.”

For justification, BLM cites the agency’s limited resources, which in turn causes requests to “slow down the agency’s decision-making process.” In Financial Year 2016, the report states, the agency’s FOIA work cost $2.8 million, which was approximately .2 percent of the agency’s total budget of $1.3 billion that year.

As has been written about before, the vast majority of FOIA requests are by commercial entities. For some agencies, the percentage of commercial requests are as high as 95 percent.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE HERE.

Wild Horse Freedom Federation’s White Paper offers new evidence on BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Program never seen by Congress or the public

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photo by Carol Walker

by Debbie Coffey, V.P. and Dir. of Wild Horse Affairs, Wild Horse Freedom Federation

Wild Horse Freedom Federation issued a White Paper that has taken years of research, and offers new evidence on the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse & Burro Program that has never been seen by Congress or the public.

The Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, wants to cut the fat from the 2018 Budget by killing up to 46,000 wild horses and burros in BLM holding facilities due to “costs,” and to kill many thousands more on public lands because of a supposed “excess.”

However, Wild Horse Freedom Federation has done on-the-ground investigations of many BLM Long Term Holding facilities, with photos, videos and other evidence, proving that less than half of the horses that the BLM contractors, and the BLM, claimed were on long term holding facilities, were actually there.

One long term holding “pasture” contained a residential development. More

More Misery for Hillary

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new-logo25WENDELL H. WOODMAN
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November 6, 2015

How much help can Hillary Clinton expect from the White House or the FBI in keeping her email dilemma from tainting her presidential campaign?

The right answer would be: not much.

President Barack Obama and his former Secretary of State are at loggerheads to begin with. And the FBI is nothing but an arrow in Obama’s quiver — as well as an embarrassment to the Justice Department.

But aside from the obvious political tensions at work, Hillary’s email problems are much more serious than the public has been led to believe. In fact they are fraught with a danger not even a friendly FBI could ignore.

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