For Immediate Release, March 10, 2021

Contact:

William Snape, (202) 536-9351, bsnape@biologicaldiversity.org

Court: Interior Department Failed to Provide Records on Trump Administration Collusion With Coal Industry

WASHINGTON— The chief judge of the federal district court in D.C. ruled yesterday that Trump officials unlawfully failed to provide public records to the Center for Biological Diversity about their decision to reverse the Obama administration’s “pause” on coal extraction on federal public lands.

Specifically, the Interior Department failed to comply with the Freedom of Information Act regarding Secretarial Order No. 3348. The 2017 order overturned an Obama administration effort to pause new coal-leasing activities pending the first comprehensive review of the program in almost 40 years.

Interior officials must now conduct a new search and release any relevant documents by April 23.

Judge Beryl A. Howell said it “defies credulity” that then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wrote a final secretarial order to overturn the pause on coal extraction without any earlier drafts prepared or reviewed by any other staff within the department.

“To this day, the Interior Department still hasn’t come clean about who wrote the secretarial order to resume coal mining and what role the fossil fuel industry played,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel with the Center. “This ruling will help the public understand not only how corrupt Ryan Zinke and David Bernhardt were, but also just how far they’d go to hide their dirty deeds from public scrutiny.”

Judge Howell also noted that the department failed to provide records about any substantive communications between Zinke and others regarding the revoking of the coal mining pause, including failing to obtain the proper passcode for Zinke’s work phone.

The Center filed a public records request in March 2017 after Zinke revoked the Obama-era pause on coal mining. Now, after four years of litigation, Judge Howell has ordered the Interior Department to complete a new search, which potentially would include records from Bernhardt, who was then deputy Interior secretary.

“Zinke clearly hid from the public the role of special interests in crafting the Trump administration’s anti-environmental agenda,” said Snape. “But it unfortunately also shows just how broken the Freedom of Information Act is and how far the Justice Department will go to stop people from seeing the records that the public is entitled to see. Congress must do more to ensure transparency regardless of who’s in the White House.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.