Ryan Zinke

In Florida, Democrats aim to wrap Trump in his offshore drilling plan
Plan to open Florida’s coast to oil and gas drilling was put on hold, but it wasn’t killed

People hold hands on a beach in Pensacola, Fla., in June 2010 to protest offshore oil drilling. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images file photo)

After the Trump administration proposed opening Florida’s coastal waters to oil and gas drilling, even elected Republicans in the state sent a loud message to Washington: Stay away from our coasts.

The proposal was set aside by the White House, but not disposed of. And Democrats plan to keep voters in the battleground state reminded that the plan remains on a shelf at the Interior Department, ready to be put into effect in President Donald Trump’s second term if he is reelected.

Florida lawmakers seek assurance offshore drilling plan is dead
Scott and Rubio try to leverage Trump's nominee as deputy Interior secretary to extract a no-drilling commitment from administration

Scott and others in the Florida delegation are seeking assurances that the Trump Administration won’t revive a proposal to allow oil and gas drilling off their state’s coasts. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Rick Scott plans to meet this week with Katharine MacGregor, who is nominated to become Interior deputy secretary, as his fellow Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has a hold on her nomination, all to seek assurances that the Trump administration won’t move to allow oil and gas drilling off their state’s coasts.

Although the Interior Department said it was suspending its offshore drilling plan after widespread outcry, including from a bipartisan coalition of Florida lawmakers, Scott and Rubio’s actions show the delegation is not leaving anything to chance.

Democrats’ Bernhardt probe has California’s Cox in a tough spot
His committee thinks Interior secretary may have improperly intervened in decision to send water to Democrat’s farming constituents

Rep. TJ Cox represents farmers in California’s Central Valley. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A draft report by the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded in July that giving farmers in California’s Central Valley more water would harm salmon, steelhead trout and killer whales.

But after the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service intervened, the final report, released on Oct. 22, reached a new conclusion: The government could maximize water deliveries and protect the fish at the same time.

Where are the members of the 115th Congress that left under scandal?
Only two scandal-tarred lawmakers from last Congress are still serving

Montana Republican Ryan Zinke, who was Interior secretary until last December, is now a managing director at cybersecurity and blockchain company Artillery One. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As the #MeToo movement took hold in the past two years, nine members of the 115th Congress relinquished their seats amid allegations of sexual misconduct. That’s more than any Congress since at least 1901, based on an analysis of congressional departures by FiveThirtyEight.

Two other lawmakers left under scrutiny for financial or ethical improprieties, two who joined the Trump administration were later forced to resign their Cabinet posts, and two representatives indicted last year are still in office fighting the charges.

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.