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Environment & Energy Report

Interior Solicitor Commits to Not Giving Congress ‘Wingdings’

Sept. 26, 2019, 7:53 PM

The Interior Department is resisting congressional oversight by failing to comply with House Natural Resources Committee requests for documents, according to Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

Of 24 formal requests for documents, the committee has received three complete, or nearly complete, responses, Grijalva said during a committee oversight hearing Sept. 26.

Interior says it has produced thousands of pages of documents. But Grijalva accused the department of “padding” their numbers, submitting a printed 12,000-page spreadsheet that was already available online, and hundreds of pages full of “unintelligible symbols.”

Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) also called it “offensive” that Interior would send 12,000 “wasted” pages of blank documents.

Interior’s “actions paint a picture of a department acting in bad faith,” Grijalva said. “The committee can’t do oversight envisioned in the constitution.”

Interior defended its actions at the hearing, saying the department hasn’t changed how it responds to congressional document requests compared to previous administrations, according to Principal Deputy Solicitor Daniel Jorjani, who was just confirmed as solicitor by the Senate.

Jorjani called Interior’s responsiveness to Congress “robust,” so far producing 13,500 documents composed of more than 100,000 pages. He said that many of the pages were filled with “wingdings” in an effort to provide Congress with complete documents.

“I commit to doing better,” Jorjani said.

But he refused to answer questions about Interior’s reorganization of the Bureau of Land Management, including the relocation of BLM headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo. He referred questions to other BLM and Interior officials.

“This committee asked for a witness who could answer questions,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) responded.

Questions on Pendley Recusals

Jorjani also declined to answer questions from Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) regarding the long list of recusals that Bureau of Land Management Acting Director William Perry Pendley submitted to agency staff on Sept. 25.

Pendley, a lawyer and former president of the Colorado-based Mountain States Legal Foundation, became acting BLM chief in July. Pendley’s former clients included several Utah counties that want to abolish the BLM-managed Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments.

Huffman said the ethics pledge Pendley signed requires him to recuse himself from matters pertaining to former clients for two years. But Pendley, in a 17-page list, said he would recuse himself for only one year from some matters.

Those include matters tied to Garfield, Kane, and San Juan counties in Utah, which are involved in litigation regarding the southern Utah monuments. Pendley is also recusing himself for one year from matters regarding the Washington Examiner, the town of Taos, N.M., and Caribou County, Idaho.

“If you have been misapplying the Trump ethics pledge as it pertains to Mr. Pendley, I wonder if you have been misapplying it against Mr. Bernhardt,” Huffman said, referring to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. And if the pledge was misapplied, “you’re the solicitor of the Department of the Interior. You gonna do something about it?”

Jorjani referred questions about Pendley’s recusals to Interior ethics officials. But when pressed by Huffman, Jorjani said he would review the recusal agreements himself.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bobby Magill at bmagill@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergenvironment.com; Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloombergenvironment.com

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