US Senators Drafting Legislation To Address Interior's Public Record Crackdown

Jul 9, 2019
Originally published on July 10, 2019 7:02 pm

Federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are working on new legislation that would curb the Trump administration’s efforts to clamp down on the release of public records. 

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said during a Senate speech in late June that he was crafting a bill addressing recent rule change proposals at the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Interior Department, which manages millions of acres of public land in the Mountain West. 

Interior’s rule changes would put caps on the number of documents processed every month and would give the agency greater discretion over how it handles requests. Both Interior and the EPA are also currently allowing political appointees to review documents before they are made public. 

“In a self-governed society, the people ought to know what their government is up to,” Grassley said. “Transparency laws like the Freedom of Information Act helps provide access to information in [the] face of an opaque and obstinate government.”

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., told the news outlet The Hill this week that his office was also working on similar legislation. In March, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt addressing their concerns about his agency’s proposed rule changes. 

The Interior Department was unavailable to comment on the pending legislation. Department officials have argued that the rule changes were proposed to help the agency tackle a mounting backlog of public records requests. That includes complex requests from what it calls “litigious special interest groups” that ask for thousands of government emails and memos. 

Information contained in some of those documents has led to internal investigations, questions about officials’ ethics and close relationships with extractive industries, and the resignation of former secretary Ryan Zinke. 

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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