The Department of Interior is quickly earning a reputation with journalists for providing bad information and factually inaccurate statements. The agency’s reputation took another hit this week after placing an error filled op-ed from Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.
The opinion piece ignored numerous facts while arguing that the expansion of Colorado’s West Elk and King II coal mines were “only possible with the lifting of the [Obama administration’s] coal moratorium” on public lands. This is a verifiably inaccurate statement: the Obama-era moratorium specifically exempted the two mine expansions—and any other pending coal leases. In fact, the Obama administration actively pushed to allow the West Elk and King II expansions to proceed.
The errors were so egregious that the Interior Department press shop was forced to issue a correction and apology in the Sentinel. The department’s communications director wrote, “Our office mistakenly submitted a column that did not obtain final approval from the author, Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. Additionally, in the process of drafting the piece, our staff made an error in fact-checking a claim about approved expansions of the West Elk and King II mines.”
This blunder comes on the heels of a major misstatement from an Interior Department spokesperson who announced to reporters that the agency approved a significant expansion of the Rosebud Mine in southeastern Montana. That led the Associated Press to write: “US approves 60-million ton expansion of Montana coal mine.” The mistake wasn’t corrected for nearly a week, when the department’s press office notified reporters that an “internal miscommunication” led them to wrongly announce the news. The Associated Press followed up with the headline, “Officials Say They Wrongly Announced Montana Coal Mine Expansion.”
This habit of playing fast and loose with the facts is a problem that runs to the highest levels of the Interior Department. Secretary Zinke was panned for issuing an error-riddled report to President Trump on national monuments that, as Senator Martin Heinrich explained, got “basic facts” wrong.
There is always a level of deference we provide to U.S. administration officials. Given everything we have learned over the last year, we all need to think twice before taking statements from this Interior Department at face value.