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Democratic House Committee Chairman Can Now Subpoena Interior Over Controversial Public Lands Moves

Photo of two people looking out at a vista.
Bureau of Land Management
Two people admire a vista at the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, which the Trump administration shrunk by roughly half in 2017.

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After congressional Democrats voted this week to give one of their own the power to subpoena the Trump administration, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt dismissed the move as a “witch hunt.”

Democrats on the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee have been hounding the Interior Department over the past year-and-a-half for more information on a range of issues, including the controversial relocation of the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters to Colorado and the justification behind shrinking two national monuments in Utah.

So on Wednesday, the committee voted to grant its chairman, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., broad authority to issue subpoenas for documents and witness testimonies from Interior, the Department of Agriculture and other agencies.

Grijalva said he needs that power because the Trump administration isn’t complying with their requests. 

“They want to, in their own imperial style, do what they want without any checks, without any balances, and without any oversight,” Grijalva said during Wednesday’s hearing. “And that is a dangerous path.”

But the ranking Republican on the committee, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, called the move a power grab.

“The blanket authority is being given to coerce agencies and private individuals into meeting botched and overly broad requests,” Bishop said.

Bishop fought for an amendment that required the chairman of the committee to consult with the ranking member before filing a subpoena. Members of the committee could then request a vote on whether to issue the subpoena. 

Bernhardt took to Twitter to slam the move, saying Interior has given House Democrats more than 20,000 documents. “Godspeed with the witch hunt,” he wrote.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. Follow Nate Hegyi on Twitter @natehegyi.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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