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Public Citizen Report: Trump’s Land Privatization Was Decades in the Making By Right-Wing Groups, Corporations

17 Trump Anti-Environment Officials Pushing to Sell Off Public Lands, Enrich Big Business

WASHINGTON - Numerous high-ranking Trump administration officials in the U.S. Department of the Interior are connected to right-wing anti-environmental think tanks and legal groups funded by corporate interests and wealthy individuals seeking to privatize public lands, according to a new analysis by Public Citizen.

“Even in the corporate-friendly Trump administration, the Interior Department stands out for its fealty to extractive industries such as mining and energy companies,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Trump has stocked his administration with a band of anti-government extremists, Astroturf front group alumni, and right-wing anti-green fringe figures who routinely do the bidding of dirty energy corporations. During the pandemic, Trump’s Interior Department has taken preferential treatment of oil and gas executives to a new level, engaging in numerous bailouts and other special favors for the energy industry. Meanwhile, the existential threat of climate change grows every day.”

The report, entitled “Unwise Use,” details the backgrounds of 17 current or former senior Trump Interior officials involved in the push to privatize lands protected by the federal government, including William Perry Pendley, head of the Bureau of Land Management – an agency that manages 245 million acres of public land. The Trump administration recently pulled his nomination to head the agency, but he remains the de facto acting director amid numerous calls for his resignation. The entire U.S. Senate Democratic caucus has called for Pendley’s removal.

Many of these officials have worked for think tanks that grew out of the anti-environmental “Wise Use” movement of the 1980s and 1990s as well as pro-corporate think tanks and right-wing advocacy groups, often funded by the billionaire Koch brothers. Public Citizen also examined Interior Department calendars and identified 21 meetings between top officials and conservative think tanks or legal groups.

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The analysis comes on the heels of the Trump administration decision this month to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling, fulfilling a long-time goal of the anti-green movement.

As the longtime president of the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation, a key Wise Use group, Pendley wrote in an infamous 2016 National Review essay that the Founding Fathers “intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold.” Pendley also frequently has made insensitive statements about Indigenous groups and other marginalized groups. The report points out that his anti-Indigenous views call into question his ability to execute a key mission of his agency: the duty to consult with tribes.

The report also outlines several other Trump administration officials at the Interior Department connected with the right-wing movement to privatize public lands, including Karen Budd-Falen, the deputy solicitor for fish, wildlife and parks; Kathleen Benedetto, special assistant to the Interior Secretary; Doug Domenech, assistant secretary for insular and international affairs; and Daniel Jorjani, solicitor.

“These officials aren’t just Trump’s cronies in the land privatization racket. They are the product of an extreme right-wing ideology popularized by a network of foundations and other infrastructure they built over decades,” said Alan Zibel, research director of Public Citizen’s Corporate Presidency Project and author of the report. “Pendley should certainly resign, but even if he leaves, there are many others waiting in the wings with the same agenda: to destroy the idea that public lands should be governed in the public interest.”

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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