Ag Today February 26, 2018

US lands agency makeover would diminish Washington’s power

By MATTHEW BROWN AND DAN ELLIOTT, ASSOCIATED PRESS BILLINGS, Mont. — Feb 23, 2018, 8:41 PM ET

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke disclosed Friday in an Associated Press interview that he’s revamping a sweeping overhaul of his department that’s supposed to speed up permitting for development on public lands, but Democrats asserted it was just a ploy to let the energy industry get its way.

The changes follow complaints from a bipartisan group of Western state governors that Zinke did not consult them before unveiling a plan last month to decentralize the Interior Department.

The agency oversees vast public lands, primarily in the U.S. West, ranging from protected national parks and wildlife refuges to areas where coal mining and energy exploration dominate the landscape.

Zinke wants to divide the department into 13 regions, with boundaries that more closely follows state lines instead of the natural boundaries he initially proposed, he told AP.

“At present we are mismanaging and squandering our assets through a layered bureaucracy that reflects a very old department that really has not reorganized since the turn of the last century,” he said. “We will be moving assets to the front lines and moving authority to make decisions and, I would argue, better decisions to the front lines.”

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