Category Archives: Governance

A New Boundary Waters FOIA Request

On Tuesday of last week, the Washington, DC-based organization American Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the decision to renew Twin Metals Minnesota’s leases in Superior National Forest, on the edge of the Boundary Waters.

This March 5th request is much broader in scope than the FOIA request I made back in January of 2017, which has so far yielded about five-thousand pages in documents, with more still to come. Slowly but surely, a picture is coming into focus. American Oversight’s question about “outside influence” can already be answered with an unequivocal yes:

Nonetheless, this new request promises to deepen our understanding of how Interior went about reversing Obama era protections for the Boundary Waters, at whose direction they did so, and why the matter appears to have been a priority for the incoming administration.

Three things intrigue me about American Oversight’s request.

First, it extends from January 20th, 2017 to the present. My request for documents from the Office of the Solicitor runs only to December of 2017, when the Jorjani decision was released. So the new request will take us up to the present, and include actions taken by Interior and USDA in 2018.

Second, American Oversight has asked for any communications on this matter from Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, from their official White House accounts and from their personal ijkfamily.com email domain, and from anyone using their personal email domain. This will help clarify the role Kushner, Trump, and the Trump White House might have played in the Boundary Waters reversal, and what connections, if any, we can draw between their rental of the Luksic-owned Kalorama mansion and the renewal of Antofagasta’s mineral leases. That may involve a foreign emolument. This aspect of the new request also promises to inform a broader American Oversight investigation into Jared and Ivanka’s roles in the administration.

Third, and perhaps most intriguing of all, American Oversight’s request zeroes in on an April 28, 2017 meeting with Wilmer Hale’s Rob Lehman at the Department of the Interior. I added this meeting to the Twin Metals timeline after discovering it on the calendar of Chief of Staff Scott Hommel (which American Oversight obtained back in June of 2018).

A look at the timeline shows that this was an especially busy period for Interior officials working on — or should I say with? — Twin Metals: on April 27th, in preparation for a meeting between Deputy Secretary James Cason and Antofagasta CEO Ivan Arriagada, Raya Treiser of Wilmer Hale forwards some background materials. Among them, the Waxman letter to Solicitor Hillary Tompkins that Interior would use as a blueprint. The very next day, Lehman comes to meet with Kathleen Benedetto, an 11AM meeting. Who else was in the room? We don’t know. We do know that right after that meeting Benedetto briefed her colleagues at the Office of the Solicitor. The purpose of the Benedetto briefing, according to Associate Solicitor Karen Hawbecker, was “to get some feedback from [Benedetto] on the options we’ve identified for reversing action on the Twin Metals decision.”

So by late April, the course appears already set. The options on the table were all for “reversing”; and as if to seal the deal, one week later, Antofagasta CEO Ivan Arriagada and his entourage arrive at the Department of the Interior for a first meeting. What was discussed on that occasion, and whether any assurances were given to Mr. Arriagada, remains unknown. The actions Interior subsequently took speak for themselves.

A Standing Offer to Steve Kornacki

Last week, Richard Painter tweeted out this clip of an interview he did with NBC’s Steve Kornacki back in April of 2018. At the time, Painter was running against Tina Smith for Al Franken’s senate seat.

Notice what happens just before Kornacki pushes Painter on the credibility of Franken’s accusers — starting around the 1:07 mark here. Painter says that Smith should be “a lot stronger against” Trump on three fronts: first, she should have come out against his trade war; second, she should call for his removal from office, because he is unable to execute his constitutional duties; and

furthermore, we have serious problems in the state of Minnesota where out of state mining interests are coming into our state, large conglomerates, with the support of the Trump administration, seeking to destroy our Boundary Waters and other waterways in the state of Minnesota. Our establishment Democratic, Farm Labor, senators and members of Congress, most of them are not standing up to that. So we need to have — both parties to be fixed; both parties need to be fixed.

Kornacki sums up what he is “hearing”: “I’m hearing trade, I’m hearing impeachment,” and then he rushes headlong into the topic that will dominate the rest of the segment: whether Richard Painter believes Al Franken’s accusers. How is it possible Kornacki didn’t hear the bit about mining interests? It’s all the more remarkable because Painter spent the most time on the mining story, about twice as much time as he did on impeachment, and a lot more time than he did on trade. How could Kornacki simply skip over it? Why no follow up?

The most likely answer is, Kornacki already knew where this interview was heading — back to Al Franken — and the mining story looked like nothing more than a detour. In retrospect, however, it looks as if Kornacki missed a big political story, or several stories, details of which are only now coming to light.

To stick just to the Boundary Waters story for the moment: a foreign mining company and its lobbyists appear to have dictated decisions at the US Department of Interior. As documents obtained through FOIA make clear, these decisions were coordinated at the highest levels of the US government, with USDA, the White House and the State Department all in the loop. And it sure looks as if the fix was in from the very first days of the new administration, with a predetermined outcome guiding the moves federal government officials made behind closed doors, without public input, and with disregard for science, economics, and the law.

I’ve offered to buy Steve Kornacki lunch and walk him through the details of this story. That’s a good faith, standing offer. There is even more at stake here than the just administration of public lands and the protection of waterways. This is also a story about a coordinated effort to sidestep democratic governance and undermine our shared public life. That ought to be of some interest to a national political correspondent for NBC News.

Read other posts about the Boundary Waters Reversal here.

The Architect of the Boundary Waters Reversal

1989 files

“Extrinsic evidence” from the 1980s: one of the files from the Milwaukee District Office of the Bureau of Land Management appended to Waxman’s 2016 letter to Hilary Tompkins.

Principal Deputy Solicitor Daniel Jorjani signed the December 2017 Department of Interior memo that re-opened the door to sulfide mining near the Boundary Waters, but he probably should not be considered the legal architect of the Boundary Waters reversal. That dubious honor appears to belong to Seth P. Waxman. Or at least the key arguments in Jorjani’s memo seem to be largely derived from a letter Waxman wrote on behalf of Twin Metals to Department of Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins back in July of 2016.

Waxman’s name may ring a bell. He has had a distinguished legal and political career. Under President Clinton, he served as Solicitor General of the United States. In the last year of the Bush administration, he made oral arguments before the Supreme Court in Boumedienne v. Bush, to uphold habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo detainees. During the Obama years, his name was even floated as a Supreme Court nominee. Waxman is also a partner at WilmerHale, the powerful DC firm that has led both the lobbying and litigation efforts for Antofagasta, Plc in its bid to renew its mineral leases in Superior National Forest.

Waxman sent his 24 page letter to Hilary Tompkins on July 1, 2016. On the same day, he sent a letter to Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell. Those letters are included among Department of Interior documents obtained through FOIA. The letter to Tompkins appears to have been the most widely shared. It was attached to an April 27, 2017 email from Raya B. Treiser of WilmerHale to Cathy Gulac, secretary to James Cason, confirming a May 2nd meeting with Antofagasta CEO Ivan Arriagada at Interior. You can follow it from there as it gets attached to other email exchanges and forwarded around.

HaugrudLawkowski

A handoff from Interior’s Jack Haugrud to a political appointee: Gary Lawkowski, Counselor to the Solicitor. Attached is Seth P. Waxman’s 2016 letter to Solicitor Tompkins.

Waxman’s argument in the letter to Solicitor Tompkins is that Twin Metals has a non-discretionary right to renewal, as dictated by the terms of the leases negotiated by the International Nickel Company and the Bureau of Land Management back in 1966. This is also the conclusion at which Jorjani arrives, and he appears to do so by carefully following Waxman’s lead. Here, I’m going to highlight several places where Waxman’s influence on Jorjani seems undeniable. (To make it easier for others to follow along, I’ve posted the Waxman letter. Jorjani’s memo can be found here.)

To the layman — and I am one, so anything I say here should probably be read in light of that — the very idea of a non-discretionary right to renewal might seem paradoxical, or at least puzzling. Apparently the federal government, and specifically BLM, can “grant” and has twice granted (in 1989 and 2004) the renewal of these mineral leases, but it has no discretion to deny renewal (as long as the company complies with the law). Hobbled, BLM can say yes but not no. Waxman’s argument easily and cleverly explains why this is so. The terms of the 1966 lease, he says, are both “comprehensive” and “unique”, and those unique terms still “govern” (to use the phrase Jorjani prefers) or (in Waxman’s words) “control”:

One of those terms is a right to renew the lease (in fact, to successive renewals). This right is critical to the parties’ overall bargain: The investment required of the lessee under the leases is enormous. But because of recognized operational problems in the area, producing minerals in the short term would have been impossible. The leases thus would serve no rational purpose absent a non-discretionary right to renew; no company would undertake the necessary investment for exploration and development knowing that it could be unilaterally deprived of any ability to recoup that investment. (p. 1)

Of course, it’s possible to think of a rational purpose mineral leases could “thus” serve absent a non-discretionary right to renew. The leases might afford the company an opportunity to explore a mineral resource on public lands within a specified period of time and on certain terms, assess the feasibility of developing the resource, and provide a right to negotiate successive renewals. We can easily imagine circumstances in which the federal government might reserve discretion, and renewal might be contingent on all kinds of things, like changes in environmental conditions, advances in scientific knowledge, evidence of responsible stewardship, or commensurability with other rights. That all sounds perfectly reasonable. There’s no need to insist that a “non-discretionary right” is the only appropriate arrangement, or buy into the view that preserving discretion over renewal confers on government the power to “unilaterally [deprive]” the company of “any ability.”

This is lawyer’s hyperbole, affecting sobriety and marking out an extreme position: the only “rational” course appears to be one that protects the investment of the mining company, from exploration through development. Having entered into a lease agreement with a mining concern, the federal government is now bound to help the company realize a return on its investment. And that would require going way beyond providing incentives. Surrendering all discretion, the government defers entirely to private interests and agrees to relieve the mining company of business risk.

This Extractive Industry First approach is perfectly congruent with Trumpism and its doctrine of Energy Dominance. We see it reflected not just in the Jorjani memo but in some of the changes Ryan Zinke and David Bernhardt brought to the Department of Interior. Perhaps Mr. Waxman is a man ahead of his time — by about a year, it seems. But let’s grant, for the moment, Waxman’s position that this non-discretionary right is indeed the “unique” arrangement the 1966 leases set out, and focus instead on the area where Jorjani’s memo relies most heavily on Waxman: in reaching the conclusion that the 1966 leases “govern.” Here is Jorjani’s brief restatement of Waxman’s argument:

Twin Metals is entitled to a third renewal. First, the renewal terms of the 2004 lease form do not govern. The form is ambiguous, and the intent of the parties to keep operative the terms of the 1966 leases becomes clear once the BLM’s decision files are examined. (p. 8)

Jorjani adds in a footnote (number 38) that Solicitor Tompkins’ memo did not examine this “extrinsic evidence” — 1980s decision files from the BLM’s Milwaukee office, which Waxman attached as exhibits to his letter to Hillary Tomkins — “because of its underlying premise that the 2004 lease forms were unambiguous.” This, too, echoes Waxman, and builds on an argument about ambiguity and how to resolve it that Waxman sets out repeatedly in his 2016 letter to Tompkins: “Because the renewal provision in the 2004 standard forms is ambiguous,” he writes, “extrinsic evidence [namely, the 1989 BLM decision files] must be considered” (pp. 22-3). Jorjani returns to the theme several times: “the meaning of the 2004 leases is ambiguous” (p. 11), but those Milwaukee files from the 1980s clear everything up.

Waxman discusses what should be done in such cases of ambiguity: “Where a provision in a contract is ambiguous, courts resort to extrinsic evidence to resolve the ambiguity by ‘determin[ing] the intent and meaning of the parties” (p. 23). Jorjani is on exactly the same page: “where contract terms are unclear or ambiguous, an examination of extrinsic evidence is appropriate to properly interpret the contract in accordance with the parties’ intent” (p. 10). Waxman maintains that “extrinsic evidence must be considered, and it confirms that the parties’ intent in executing the 2004 forms was to re-confirm that Twin Metals has a non-discretionary right to renew” (p. 3). Jorjani, too, discovers the “intent” of the 1966 parties in the 1989 files:

…the meaning of the 2004 leases is ambiguous. Given this ambiguity, extrinsic evidence beyond the ‘four corners’ of the document may be considered to ascertain the intent of the contracting parties. Examining the decision files of the BLM resolves the ambiguity. The record shows that the BLM renewed the leases in 1989 under the same terms as the 1966 leases, and did so again in 2004. (p. 11)

Though both Jorjani and Waxman seize on the same Milwaukee documents to prove intent, neither entertains the possibility that there might be other extrinsic evidence to consider in this case — to illuminate historical context, help clarify why the Milwaukee office took the actions it did in 1989, or throw into relief the different economic and environmental conditions, or different assumptions about public lands and private industry, that obtain in 1966, 1989, 2004, or for that matter now. This isn’t a historical inquiry, after all: it is, instead, a search for proof of intent that will shore up the mining company’s claim. It’s just a little unsettling to see the vast resources of the Department of Interior being marshaled to that purpose, following the lead of Antofagasta’s counsel.

Let’s go back, once more, to this issue of ambiguity. One of the main reasons why the 2004 leases are ambiguous — and why the 1966 leases control, and why the Milwaukee documents are necessary in the first place — is that the 2004 leases lack what is known as an integration clause. A written contract is “integrated” when the parties consider it to constitute their full and complete agreement. Or, as a Jorjani footnote (49) explains, “Integration clauses, also known as merger clauses, are contract provisions that generally state that the agreement as written constitutes the entire agreement between the parties and supersedes any prior representations.” Jorjani cites Corbin on Contracts for his authority; Waxman, Williston on Contracts: the standard lease forms used in 2004 do not “supersede or annul” the 1966 leases (Waxman, p. 11).

As Waxman states at the outset of his letter, this lack of an integration clause is a point Solicitor Tompkins does not “acknowledge” in her M-Opinion (p. 2). Both Waxman and Jorjanil will go to town on this point.

Waxman:

the Opinion asserts (p.6) that the 2004 standard forms are “complete, integrated documents,” and thus their renewal provision governs the analysis here. In making this assertion, the Opinion does not acknowledge the lack of any integration clause in the 2004 standard forms. (p. 7)

And again:

…the 1966 leases control. The Opinion’s contrary view depends on its assertion (p.6) that the 2004 forms are “integrated” contracts. But they are not; the 2004 forms lack any integration clause (a point the Opinion does not acknowledge), and there is no other basis on which to conclude that the 2004 forms— divorced from the 1966 leases that the parties attached—were integrated contracts. In light of this, the Opinion’s refusal to consider extrinsic evidence conflicts with established law. (p. 2)

Jorjani picks up on the same phrase (“complete, integrated documents”) in Tompkins’ Opinion, and appears to paraphrase Waxman:

Rather than being “complete, integrated documents,” the leases attach without full explanation the entirety of the 1966 leases and do not include an integration clause that states that the 2004 lease forms are the complete expression of the parties’ agreement. These facts alone warrant an examination of extrinsic evidence to determine the intent of the parties. (p. 10)

Here, in a footnote (number 50), Jorjani cites a 1999 Second Circuit case Waxman uses in his letter (p. 9): Starter Corp. v. Converse, Inc.. “When a contract lacks an express integration clause [courts] must ‘determine whether the parties intended their agreement to be an integrated contract by reading the writing in light of the surrounding circumstances.” That’s Waxman. Jorjani cites the exact same sentence, using brackets, as Waxman does, to substitute “courts” for “district court” in the original text, and putting the word “must” in italics for emphasis.

jorjaninote50

That two knowledgeable lawyers are appealing to the same legal precedents might not be all that surprising. But it seems pretty clear that this citation, too, is part of a disconcerting pattern.

None of this goes directly to the question of legal merits, or which reading of the Twin Metals leases should or eventually will prevail. Yet something here is seriously amiss. The blueprint followed by the Principal Deputy Solicitor at the Department of Interior to reverse protections for the Boundary Waters appears to have first been drawn by the attorney for a Chilean mining conglomerate. That should raise some questions about ethical conduct, about revolving door access and undue influence, and about whether the opinion Jorjani released in December of 2017 should be allowed to stand.

You can read other posts on the Boundary Waters Reversal here.

The Burgundy Ribbon Rule

BurgundyRibbonsCalPERS

Another rule, and for the time being, at least, I am happy* with the wording here: an abuse of asking almost always presents an abuse of power.

Take the case of burgundy affair at the public pension fund CalPERS, as documented by Yves Smith over at Naked Capitalism.

This past fall, documents obtained by Smith show, CalPERS CEO Marcie Frost “asked the CalPERS senior leadership team to wear burgundy to show their support for her” as she faced questions about representations she had made regarding her educational background before and after she was hired. Burgundy ribbons were set out in break rooms with messages urging the “Team” to wear one in a show of support. “No pressure and no problem if you do not want to do this,” the message reads, “it is completely voluntary.” Completely.

“This is obviously inappropriate,” writes Smith,

since a request made by a CEO is effectively an order. CalPERS executives and employees are civil servants, not Frost’s personal retainers. As an expert on managerial and political conduct reacted:

I don’t even know what category to put this in. A scandal-plagued boss orchestrating support by inventing gang colors and pressuring employees to wear them? What happens to the employees who don’t perform this ritual of fealty? Should they be polishing their resumés and practicing their swimming skills?

These incidents smack of underlying panic. Frost is working overtime to shore up her position as CEO in the face of fully deserved questions regarding her long history of misrepresentations about her background, which include committing perjury in Washington on a gubernatorial questionnaire. Not only is Frost pushing her subordinates far too hard to back her up, since they can only do so much for her and coercing them will diminish their good will, she is also showing a lack of a sense of professional boundaries….

Frost’s burgundy campaign may well have crossed the line into creating a hostile work environment. One senior staff member who came to the office and saw the “dress burgundy” request too late to comply issued a written apology. Similarly, when “asked” to wear burgundy to an offsite, one [employee] who wears only black and white felt compelled to buy a burgundy outfit to comply…

…word clearly got around quickly, including the notion that non-compliance was risky.

I am still fussing over the word “presents,” and I’ve considered “masks” and variations in that direction, as well as “declares,” “represents” or “signals.” That one abuse (presenting an order as a request) almost always carries the other with it — almost always, because I don’t want to get caught up right now in handling exceptions — is the essential thing.

You can read my other posts about asking here.

*Postscript: On reflection, I might prefer this much more straightforward and concrete formulation: when someone presents an order as a request, look for an abuse of power. That way, we don’t have to worry too much about motives, or figure out whether the person doing the asking is trying to get away with something. It falls to the person being asked to watch for abuse, and conduct herself accordingly. (Being asked for something, or to do something, turns the ethical spotlight on you, or at least requires you to share it with the person doing the asking. This is your moment.) In a case like the present one, and in most superior-subordinate relationships, calling out abuse may be impractical. Subordinates will bury grievances, reluctantly comply, or pretend not to have been aware of the request. The subordinate’s dilemma in this case registers a failure of governance; a failure of governance at the highest reaches makes itself manifest at even the lowest levels and in the most trivial matters (the wearing of a ribbon). More immediately, presenting orders as requests hijacks power, creates distrust (after all, we can’t help but wonder about motives), and makes people prone to dissemble. All this thwarts collaboration, or the power to do things (to act) together.

Arendt on Enlightened Self-Interest

From the essay “On Violence” in Crises of the Republic (1972):

Nothing, unfortunately, has so constantly been refuted by reality as the credo of “enlightened self-interest,” in its literal version as well as in its more sophisticated Marxian variant. Some experience plus a little reflection teach, on the contrary, that it goes against the very nature of self-interest to be enlightened. To take as an example from everyday life the current interest conflict between tenant and landlord: enlightened interest would focus on a building fit for human habitation, but this interest is quite different from, and in most cases opposed to, the landlord’s self-interest in high profit and the tenant’s in low rent. The common answer of an arbiter, supposedly the spokesman of “enlightenment,” namely, that in the long run the interest of the building is the true interest of both landlord and tenant, leaves out of account the time factor, which is of paramount importance for all concerned. Self-interest is interested in the self, and the self dies or moves out or sells the house; because of its changing condition, that self cannot reckon in terms of long-range interest, i.e., the interest of a world that survives its inhabitants…. Self-interest, when asked to yield to true interest — that is, the interest of the world as distinguished from the self — will always reply, Near is my shirt, but nearer is my skin. That may not be particularly reasonable, but it is quite realistic; it is the not very noble but adequate response to the time discrepancy between men’s private lives and the altogether different life expectancy of the public world. To expect people, who have not the slightest notion of what the res publica, the public thing, is, to behave nonviolently and argue rationally in matters of interest is neither realistic nor reasonable.

Another Look at the Twin Metals Timeline

Rees20170502AntofagastaIn response to a FOIA request I made back in April, the Department of the Interior has released Gareth Rees’ 2017 work calendar. Rees has served as Executive Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior since George W. Bush’s first term. He did not arrive with the so-called “beachhead” teams brought in by the current administration with the express mission of sabotaging and dismantling the government agencies entrusted to their care. Still, his calendar (which I’ve put up here, on DocumentCloud) adds more pieces to the puzzle.

Rees’ calendar drew my attention to a couple of meetings I hadn’t noticed before and which are now represented on the timeline. There is a June 15, 2017 meeting at Interior with a group called Jobs for Minnesotans — a front for the building trades that is currently lobbying for both the Twin Metals project near the Boundary waters and the Polymet project to the south, near Hoyt Lakes. Jobs for Minnesotans is a 501c4 “social welfare” or dark money organization of the kind I’ve written about in connection with mining projects in Michigan and Wisconsin. As a 2016 Pro Publica report suggests, these organizations are designed for those who prefer backroom deals to sunlight. 501c4s like Jobs for Minnesotans are used to channel money from private interests into public process, and coordinate localized efforts to remove environmental protections and undo regulation through regional and national networks.

A May 2, 2017 meeting with Antofagasta plc has also been added to the timeline. This meeting brought together representatives of the Chilean conglomerate with a large group of officials at the Department of the Interior just one month after Interior appears to have taken up the matter. Apparently meeting with Antofagasta was a priority. The company’s subsidiaries Twin Metals Minnesota and Franconia Minerals had sued the Department of Interior in February of 2017. The complaint makes the mining companies’ position abundantly clear. And yet administration officials seem to have been anxious to sit down with the Chilean parent company and discuss its leases. Why? (It’s not likely that the same courtesy will be extended to the ten Minnesota plaintiffs now complaining that in reinstating Antofagasta’s leases the Department of Interior exceeded its lawful authority and acted in an arbitrary and capricious way.)

The first meeting with Antofagasta, in early May, appears to have set the agenda; the second meeting with Antofagasta, on July 25th, looks as if it were called to reach an agreement. The July meeting with Antofagasta includes all Interior officials present at the May 2nd meeting as well as some important decision makers: Deputy Solicitor Daniel Jorjani, Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management Michael Nedd, and Edward Passarelli, Deputy Chief at the Natural Resources Section of the Department of Justice.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Department of Interior worked steadily and closely behind closed doors with lobbyists and mining executives to renew Antofagasta’s mineral leases in Superior National Forest. This would conform to the general pattern at Interior under Zinke’s leadership. “A deeply problematic culture of secrecy…has taken root in the Department of the Interior,” the organization Earthjustice charges, “keeping the American public in the dark about major decisions, important records, and meetings with industry that affect the lands and resources the agency holds in trust for the American people.”

In this case, the mining company ran a full court press; the public was kept almost entirely out of the process. The deed appears to have been done well before the end of summer 2017. The legal review that would result in the Jorjani Memo of December 22nd appears to have been nothing more than an exercise in a foregone conclusion — a sham.

Demagoguery in Duluth

Earlier this week, in Duluth, Minnesota, Donald Trump stated that the reversal of Obama-era protections for the Boundary Waters promised great things “for our amazing people and miners and workers and for the people of Minnesota.”  Bizarrely, the president went so far as to claim that mining the Duluth Complex would “make it from an environmental standpoint better,” though it’s impossible to say what exactly “it” might refer to here.

He framed these remarks as an announcement, but it’s also difficult to say what, exactly, he was so “proudly announcing.” Those like Daniel Dale who track the president’s speeches have noticed that he tends to present as new and exciting events and initiatives that are long past, or which in fact have failed or run into trouble. This is especially true when it comes to the president’s statements about blue collar jobs, factories, and the economy.

The timeline clearly shows that the Department of Interior started taking meetings with lobbyists and representatives of Antofagasta Plc and Twin Metals in April of 2017, worked closely and steadily with them through the summer and fall, and issued a legal memo favorable to the mining companies in December of that year. Secretary Zinke’s latest action — the reinstatement of Antofagasta’s mining leases in Superior National Forest on May 2, 2018 — was over a year in the making. Almost all of this work was done behind the scenes, without meaningful public participation. Announcements would only have drawn unwelcome attention.

In Duluth, the announcement of “first steps” that were in fact already taken might have been made to pre-empt or drown out the real news of this week: the filing of a Complaint in the US District Court for the District of Columbia by a group of ten Minnesota plaintiffs against the Department of Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, Secretary Ryan Zinke, and BLM’s Brian Steed.  The Complaint charges that the reinstatement of Antofagasta Plc’s mining leases in Superior National Forest “exceeds their authority under law and is arbitrary and capricious” and asks the Court “to enjoin them from further consideration of applications to renew the two leases.”

Filed yesterday, just hours after Trump’s Duluth rally, this Complaint is actual news. It will not get one tenth of the coverage Trump’s bluster receives.

There’s little if anything that’s new and even less of substance here. I include the video because it’s helpful to consider where Trump is clearly reading from prepared remarks (which might indicate some actual administrative policy step) and where he is simply wandering off on his own into vague promises of some “better” future. He did the latter for most of the minute he spent on the subject of Superior National Forest, veering off, at the end, into incoherence.

Here is my transcript of his remarks on the topic:

Under the previous administration, America’s rich natural resources, of which your state has a lot, were put under lock and key, including thousands of acres in Superior National Forest. You know what that is, right? Tonight I’m proudly announcing that we will soon be taking the first steps to rescind the federal withdrawal in Superior National Forest and restore mineral exploration for our amazing people and miners and workers and for the people of Minnesota, one of the great natural reserves of the world. And we’ll do it carefully, and maybe, if it doesn’t pass muster, we won’t do it at all, but it is going to happen I will tell you that. It’s gonna happen. And it’s happening fast. We’ve already taken it as you know a long way down the road. And it’s gonna make things better. It’s gonna make it from an environmental standpoint better. 

Here, as far as I can tell, is the substance of his prepared remarks.

Under the previous administration, America’s rich natural resources were put under lock and key, including thousands of acres in Superior National Forest. We [have taken] the first steps to rescind the federal withdrawal in Superior National Forest and restore mineral exploration [in] one of the great natural reserves of the world. 

The opening jab at Obama, who locked away riches that are rightfully ours, also makes a mockery of the very idea of conservation and environmental protection. But who’s really paying attention? The audience cheers at the mention of Superior National Forest: “you know what that is, right?” Trump clearly does not, but he tries to milk the cheer anyway; it’s a variation on the tired old comedian’s schtick: who here is from Jersey? Anybody? New Jersey!

Superior National Forest is seen here entirely through the lens of extractive industry: a “natural reserve,” a store of minerals. Just as importantly, the statement makes no mention of the risky mining that this will involve — sulfide mining, a kind of mining the amazing people of the Iron Range have never done before, and which has the potential to destroy the very things people in Minnesota prize about Superior National Forest and the nearby Boundary Waters area.

Marshall Helmberger sums it up in a must read article on the new Complaint in The Timberjay :

Former Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, in December 2016, issued detailed findings of fact concluding it was likely that acid mine drainage from the Twin Metals mine would contaminate the BWCAW and cause adverse effects on the water quality, fish populations, aquatic ecosystems, and animal species. Tidwell further considered the possibility of containment, mitigation and remediation efforts and found that very few would be compatible with maintaining the BWCAW’s wilderness character.

While it appears that the president’s prepared remarks also included some vague gesture toward environmental responsibility, Trump turns that bit into a meaningless jumble, saying at first that the mineral exploration of the Duluth Complex will only go forward if it passes muster, then assuring the audience that “it is going to happen…It’s gonna happen,” and when it does happen, “it” is going to make “it” better. “It” here can mean anything, or nothing at all: he’s not offering the crowd anything beyond the word “better,” which is pretty much all they came out to hear anyway.

Purdy on Public-Lands Populism

From the closing paragraphs of Jedediah Purdy’s Whose Lands? Which Public?

In its monuments proclamations, the Trump Administration asserts a sweeping power to reclassify fifteen million acres of protected federal land and hundreds of millions of marine acres. The proclamations already issued, which purport to strip more than a million acres of monument status, are redolent of this Administration’s illiberal and procedurally dubious tendencies. They elevate to federal policy the themes and goals of a strand of Western populism that is tainted with outlawry and racism. The proclamations also cater to extractive industries, particularly uranium, oil and gas, and coal, in ways that resonate with the Trump Administration’s relentless mixing of public wealth and private interest–in a phrase, its penchant for corruption….

Corruption is not a novel concern here. For well over a century, the field [of public-lands law] has been shaped by recognition that precipitate and opportunistic privatization is a perennial temptation in a body of law that governs nearly a third of the country’s acreage and a great deal of its natural wealth. The Executive branch’s capacity for rapid, unilateral, and obscure action makes it especially suited to this form of misappropriation. Recognition of these facts is built into public-lands law in the long-standing asymmetric preference for Presidential power to preserve lands over Presidential power to privatize them…. The kind of opportunistic favoritism that the Trump proclamations display is precisely what public-lands law has been structured over centuries to avert. These proclamations are paradigms of why unilateral Presidential reclassification toward privatizing natural resources would be anomalous in public-lands law. A Court would properly consider the anomaly in deciding whether the power to create national monuments should imply the power to unmake them.

In the case of the Trump proclamations, the question of opportunism and favoritism in reclassification decisions interacts with the influence of racially inflected nationalism and localist outlawry on the Administration’s priorities. Here too, as with corruption, these themes are not novel or alien to public-lands law. Extractivism, settler-colonialism, and the priority of property-style resource claims and local control are, in key ways, continuations of the themes that governed the first hundred years of public-lands law. Their constituencies have never left the field. It is partly because of these constituencies’ persistent opposition to preservation agendas that public-lands law has always been inflected by disputes over national identity, from the utilitarian nationalism of Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt’s national forests to the national parks’ much-advertised status as the American answer to Europe’s cathedrals to the claim that wilderness preservation would keep the country from becoming a “cage.”

Here too, public-lands law has been shaped by grappling with the themes that the Trump proclamations raise. And here too its shape contains a good part of an answer. The public-lands populists’ claims on behalf of privatizing and extractive policies already have a specific legal expression that is deeply embedded in public-lands law: in long-standing public rights-of-way across the federal lands of the West, in mining and mineral-leasing regimes, in grazing rights, and in the default policy of extensive public recreational access — and, above all, in the private real estate that was substantially created under federal privatization schemes. In other words, these claims do not come from outside public-lands law. They are part of it, and they occupy a specific place in its structure. Where they have been vested, they tend to persist within new regimes that otherwise emphasize preservation over extraction and economic use. On multiple-use lands, they play a prominent part in the statutorily mandated planning process. Where, however, they are not vested but take the form of inchoate expectations of continued access, they yield on categorically protected lands: new privatizing and extractive claims are almost uniformly excluded under preservation regimes. For such claims to get traction again, the lands themselves must be reclassified. That reclassification is generally reserved to Congress. If the Antiquities Act authorizes the President to hand a victory to public-lands populists by reclassifying hotly contested lands, then it is a dramatic anomaly in public-lands law. It would authorize constant perennial and shifting reopening of precisely the disputes that the field exists to structure and resolve, and through a mechanism that is procedurally orthogonal to the rest of the field.

The Trump proclamations raise a novel question for interpretation of one of the most important public-lands statutes. Like much that this Administration does, however, it is not so much new as it is an effort to reopen questions that many of us had hoped were closed. In this case, they should remain closed.

McCollum Questions Zinke on the Boundary Waters Reversal

This morning, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke appeared before the House Appropriations Committee at a hearing on the FY 2019 Budget.  The video below marks the moment when Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum questioned Secretary Zinke on the Boundary Waters reversal.

It begins with an exchange on Bears Ears and Grand Staircase, in the course of which Zinke says reporting in the New York Times based on U.S. Department of Interior memos is not “credible.” Fake news.

McCollum then moves the discussion to the Boundary Waters reversal. Her main question, which she asks in a few different ways, is whether Deputy Solicitor Jorjani met with any stakeholders other than lobbyists for Twin Metals Minnesota before issuing his reversal memo.

Zinke’s response that this is all part of the public record is at best disingenuous, given that nearly all the information we have to date about the reversal is the result of FOIA requests; and it’s also Trumpian in its post-truthiness, since Zinke just declared a few moments earlier that reporting based on Department of Interior records is not to be trusted.

At any rate, here is the full exchange:

What Scott Pruitt’s Troubles Tell Us About Corruption in Kalorama

It’s tempting to draw parallels between the situation at 2449 Tracy Place NW, where Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump rent a mansion owned by Chilean mining billionaire Andronico Luksic Craig, and Scott Pruitt’s sweetheart deal to rent a bedroom in a Washington DC condo owned by the wife of powerful lobbyist Steven Hart, chairman of Williams & Jensen, for fifty dollars a night. But that will not get us very far, and it’s best not to conflate the two cases.

To begin with, Jared and Ivanka are reportedly paying market rate for their place: $15,000 / month. While no one, to my knowledge, has seen records of those monthly payments in the form of cancelled checks or electronic transfer receipts, it seems pretty safe to assume that rent is actually being collected. Doesn’t it? The corporation that owns the property, Tracy DC Real Estate, Inc., was formed by Luksic’s lawyers at Duane Morris LLP in Boston, and the deal was put together by one of the Washington DC’s “top-producing” real estate agents: Cynthia Howar, who is herself a member of the bar. The lawyers, one would like to think, took care of the details.

Not so in Scott Pruitt’s case. Despite the friendly terms, Pruitt fell behind on his rental payments, according to Politico, “forcing his lobbyist landlord to pester him for payment.” Pruitt’s landlord, Vicki Hart, did not have the appropriate business license to rent out a room in her Washington, DC condo, and now faces fines of up to $2000.

In Kalorama, Tracy DC Real Estate, Inc. had obtained the business license for a one family rental from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in the District of Columbia by March of 2017. That license is good for two years, until February 28, 2019. Who can say where the first family tenants will be by then?

Of course, there is one important parallel to draw between the Pruitt case and the situation at Tracy Place. It doesn’t have to do with licenses or rental agreements or payments. It has to do with ethics — or an apparent lack of concern with ethics.

Scott Pruitt rushed an ethics review of his bedroom rental only after news stories about the deal started to appear. The review was botched, or its conclusions were forced; it’s unclear which. The EPA’s top ethics official now says he needs to revisit the matter, because he was not in full possession of the facts when he retroactively approved the arrangement. This only serves to highlight that the right time for Scott Pruitt to ask whether the rental was permissible or appropriate was before entering into it.

Much the same could be said of Jared and Ivanka’s rental of the Kalorama mansion: the lawyers may have left nothing undone, but there is still the question whether this rental agreement ought to have been struck in the first place, given the fact that the mansion’s owner — or the mining conglomerate his family controls — was suing the U.S. government over the renewal of mining leases.

Twin Metals Minnesota had already sued the United States government back in September of 2016 over lack of action on the Superior National Forest leases. When the Obama administration did act in December of 2016, denying renewal of the leases, and launching a study of a 20-year ban on sulfide mining near the Boundary Waters, it was clear Twin Metals would sue again.

This second suit was filed by Antofagasta’s subsidiaries, Twin Metals Minnesota and Franconia Minerals, on February 21, 2017, just about a week before Tracy DC Real Estate obtained its license to rent the Kalorama mansion as a one family unit. A review of the rental agreement should obviously have been undertaken by the Office of the White House Counsel, with these and other facts in view, if only to preempt scandal-mongering and dispel any appearance of impropriety.

One of the earliest reports of the rental agreement in the Wall Street Journal quotes Rob Walker, a lawyer in private practice who specializes in election law and government ethics, to the effect that “there might not be an ethics problem” as long as the mansion is being rented at fair market value. Maybe not. But I’ve been unable to find any indication that a formal ethics review of the Kalorama rental agreement was ever requested or conducted.