NEW ANALYSIS: Cutting the Public Out of Public Lands

Jan 14, 2020

Before proposal to gut NEPA, Trump Interior Department ignored overwhelming public opposition to policy changes

DENVER—Just last week, the Trump administration proposed major changes to how federal agencies would implement the National Environmental Policy Act, seeking to exempt major infrastructure projects from environmental reviews and curtailing opportunities for the public to provide input. The plan follows a series of efforts by the Interior Department to systematically suppress public participation while advancing the administration’s anti-environment agenda. This includes undermining transparency laws, eliminating public comment periods, suspending public advisory committees, and creating loopholes to circumvent environmental reviews. 

The Center for Western Priorities released a new analysis of millions of public comments submitted to the Interior Department during the rulemaking process for 10 major policy proposals under the Trump administration. 

For each proposed policy change, more than 95 percent of public comments opposed the policy. Nevertheless, the Interior Department ultimately moved forward with the rule changes opposed by the vast majority of public submissions for 8 of the 10 rulemakings. In almost every instance where extractive industries expressed general support for a policy rollback, the Interior Department moved forward with rules broadly opposed by the public. Just two proposed rules were ultimately dropped or altered significantly upon final release.

The full analysis and results can be viewed here.

“This analysis reveals just how strongly the public is opposed to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s drilling and mining agenda. All too often, the Trump administration ignores the public to roll back key policies,” said Center for Western Priorities Media and Data Manager Andre Miller, who conducted the analysis. “The laws that bring local communities to the table for discussions on land management are being undermined while loopholes are being opened up for the fossil fuel industry.” 

The analysis also includes a review of actions taken by the Trump administration’s Interior Department to limit public participation and input in the land management process in an effort to greenlight drilling and mining on public lands. 


The Center for Western Priorities assessed public sentiment of public comments in instances where more than 500 comments were posted in a proposed rule docket on and Interior Department agencies subsequently released a final rule or policy. A total of 10 rulemakings met these criteria and were included in the analysis. CWP downloaded the full text of all available comments (code). A random sample of comments (n=400) for each rulemaking was analyzed. Each comment was then individually coded as “for,” “against,” or “neutral” based on the sentiment expressed towards the proposed rule. Comments that were unrelated to the rulemaking were removed from the sample. Detailed results of the public comment sentiment analysis can be viewed here.

For more information, visit To speak with an expert on public lands, contact Jesse Prentice-Dunn at 720-204-1886 or Sign up for Look West to get daily public lands and energy news sent to your inbox.