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Politics and Corruption at Grand Canyon

The Trump Administration is on the warpath. Not to end the Coronavirus, which the President generally believes does not require much federal government intervention, but a war on the environment.

From increased oil and gas leasing on our public lands to decreasing national clean air standards for automobiles, elimination of environmental law enforcement, to attacks on the Endangered Species Act, removing the United States from the Global Climate Accord, reducing oversight of livestock grazing on public lands, the Trump administration has demonstrated no commitment to environmental protection.

In 2016 the National Park Service objected to a massive development two miles from the park entrance, arguing that it would compromise the integrity of the parklands. In response, the town of Tusayan where the development would be constructed hired Secretary David Bernhardt’s former firm to lobby the Interior Department, which Bernhardt now overseas. Since then, the community has paid $520,000 in lobbying fees to advance the project and recently resubmitted its development application. The proposal would result in shopping malls, hotels, and even homes just outside the park’s south entrance.

So Secretary Bernhardt appointed lawyer Ed Keable as superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park Edward Keable currently serves as the assistant solicitor of general law for the Interior Department’s Office of the Solicitor. The appointment is seen by many as an attempt to reverse the Park Service’s objections to the gateway development.

Keable has no experience in the National Park Service. Most park superintendents work their way up to such a prestigious position running one of the major national parks in the country. His appointment by Secretary Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for the oil and gas industry, is seen by many as an attempt to circumvent the previous park service objections to the development.

Is it more than coincidental that Bernhardt appoints someone under his thumb to run the park? Bernhardt’s appointment of Keable signals that commercial interests will overrule park resource managers. Most national park superintendents see their job to protect park ecosystem integrity, not to assist developers. Apparently, Secretary Bernhardt thinks this is the wrong approach.

It is another demonstration of the corruption found throughout the Trump Administration where the Secretary of Interior allows his former lobbying firm to influence the department’s policies and actions.

The appointment of Keable is an effort to sidestep National Park management priorities to benefit a client of the Secretary lobbying firm. Of course, given that Trump himself continues to make decisions that benefit from his own business operations, it’s not surprising that many of his political appointees see nothing wrong with bending public policy to benefit private interests. As they say, the fish rots from the head.

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

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