This could be interesting. Or it could simply be a fishing trip.
The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility group is taking the Department of Interior to court in a bid to learn whether the agency's rewrite of the National Park Service's Management Policies were industry-driven.
In a lawsuit filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., the non-profit asks that DOI be ordered to turn over any and all correspondence and notes "leading up to a Bush administration proposed rewrite of National Park Service policies to favor commercial uses over preservation of park resources."
I know the Bluewater Network previously had gone through the appointments calendar of Assistant Deputy Interior Secretary Paul Hoffman to find an industry connection behind his drastic revision of the Management Policies, with no apparent success.
In its lawsuit, PEER says it initially filed a Freedom of Information Act request with DOI on September 1 asking for copies of all documents in the offices of Hoffman, NPS Director Fran Mainella, and NPS Deputy Director Steve Martin"containing any communications with any party outside of the federal government related to the revision of National Parks System Management Polices for the period beginning January 1, 2005, through September 1, 2005. The requested documents included, but were not limited to, letters, memoranda, e-mails, written notes of meetings and of telephone conversations between officials of the assistant secretary or named subordinates and any party outside of the federal government."
However, the lawsuit notes, DOI has repeatedly failed to turn over any documents.
Back in a September post I pointed out that Hoffman had explained to the American Recreation Coalition, a group that favors motorized recreation on public lands, some of his motivations for marking up changes in the Management Policies.
In a press release announcing its lawsuit, PEER also noted his comments to that group. Among those comments, Hoffman told ARC members that he had "received a clear message from many constituencies" that it was time to revise the Management Policies because they held an "evident bias in favor of preservation of the park system over human use and enjoyment."
What's interesting, though, is top Interior Department officials have struggled with amnesia lately. During a conference call with reporters last fall Hoffman, when asked to name which of those "many constituencies" had approached him, couldn't cite a single one. Later in the fall, after NPS leadership said it had turned to "100 Career Professionals" to recast Hoffman's revisions, the agency could not name any of the 100 in response to a Freedom of Information request from the Greenwire news service.
Now PEER is taking its best shot to unravel the mystery behind the drive to revise the Management Policies, which guide park superintendents in operating their parks.
"Which constituencies sent Paul Hoffman the clear message that national parks should no longer be so protective of nature?" asked PEER General Counsel Richard Condit after filing the lawsuit. "We are simply trying to determine which lobbyists are really behind the new Bush administration park policies.
"... We know that Hoffman and his political patron, Vice President Cheney, both have penchants for closed-door meetings with industry lawyers and lobbyists to set administration policy," Condit added. "By law, the public has a right to know what business is conducted in its name; in this case, who Hoffman and his staff met with and what was said."
Of course, the vice president, when pressed to disclose what energy industry contacts he met with a few years ago to draft the administration's energy policy, pushed back and won a court ruling saying he didn't have to reveal those contacts.
Hopefully, DOI won't waste more taxpayer dollars by stonewalling over PEER's seemingly innocuous request.