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Tillerson, the Truth and Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was fired by Donald Trump on Twitter, gave an astounding speech last week in which he equated truth with freedom and warned: “If our leaders seek to conceal the truth or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.” It’s obvious Tillerson’s comments were directed at President Trump, whom a recent poll found only 13 percent of the public believed was honest. Unfortunately, the comments are equally applicable to Ryan Zinke, the Montanan now at the head of the Department of Interior.

Ironically, Tillerson’s call for truth rang out just as news that the Interior Department official Zinke put in charge of reviewing 27 national monuments for reduction previously acknowledged: “Essentially, barring a surprise, there is no new information that’s going to be submitted.” That he made his announcement prior to receiving millions of public comments saying “hands off” the monuments shows just what a facetious charade Zinke and Interior pulled by acting like public comments made a difference in their national monument decisions.

Of course there’s nothing like getting it from the horse’s mouth, and as The Hill reported last Friday: “Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had often boasted about gathering public comment on Bears Ears and other national monuments” and quoted Zinke who said last year, “I appreciate everyone who took the time to log-on or write in and participate in our government.”

Apparently Zinke’s “appreciation” for all the members of the public who weighed in on the national monuments is one of the “alternative realities” of which Tillerson warned. Considering that a rather astounding 2.4 million people took the time to comment and 99.5 percent opposed reduction or elimination of national monuments, it’s obvious Zinke and his Department of Interior had predetermined the outcome. Simply put, the comment period was just another sad public relations deception by our reality-TV president and his forked-tongue administration.

If they had a shred of veracity, Zinke and Trump would have told the American public their comments were meaningless in the decision to slash Grand-Staircase Escalante and Bear’s Ears national monuments in Utah by 84 percent. If truth were a valued commodity in this administration they would have said “we’re opening up as much public land as possible to private resource extraction” — which is just what they did at the behest of the oil, gas, coal, uranium, logging, ranching and other development interests.

But truth is an endangered species in the Trump White House, where apparently the president and his minions think Americans are so dumb they can continually deceive the public and get away with it by claiming the media exposing their lies is “fake news.”

How strange is it that it took Rex Tillerson to issue the clarion call for truth after being booted from the Trump administration? Remember, Tillerson knows a little something about not telling the truth since he is the former CEO of Exxon, the oil and gas megacorporation that for decades covered up its certain knowledge that burning fossil fuels was contributing to climate change.

Surely Ryan Zinke remembers that in Montana a person’s word is taken as truth and a handshake is as good as a contract. While there’s no hope his boss Trump will ever change where telling the truth is concerned, Zinke should know better — and quit deceiving citizens that their comments will influence Trump’s or Interior’s resource extraction plans for our precious public lands.

 

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George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

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