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Washington • A government watchdog group is suing the Interior Department for any records relating to five national monuments named under President Barack Obama, arguing the public deserves to see just how much the Obama administration solicited input on the designations despite what Republicans are saying now.
The Western Values Project, based in Montana, filed suit Wednesday in the federal court for the District of Columbia, asking a judge to force Interior to turn over a slew of documents the group had requested in January but that Interior has yet to produce.
The group says Republicans have been pushing the false narrative that the Obama administration didn't invite public input into the designation of Bears Ears National Monument and four others, and the documents will prove that the Interior department under Obama asked for and received a deluge of comments.
President Donald Trump has ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to recommend possible changes or recision of the Bears Ears monument and more than two dozen others dating back to 1996, including Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
"Secretary Zinke and the Trump administration have done everything they can to shut the public out of their sham review, but we're not going to let them get away with withholding basic information that they are required by law to disclose," said Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project.
The Interior Department referred The Salt Lake Tribune's request for comment to the Justice Department, which declined to talk about the litigation.
House Democrats previously released a file of documents showing what they said were clear communications between Utah leaders and the Interior Department ahead of Obama's designation, though many of those discussions focused on the Public Lands Initiative legislation by Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz.
The Western Values Project filed a federal freedom of information request Jan. 19, asking for any "scientific studies, scientific data, agency studies, agency management plans, maps, photos, references, testimony, public comments, congressional input, legal analysis or other such information used to develop the monument designations since January 1, 2014."
Interior confirmed the receipt of the request but did not respond within the 20 days mandated by law, the group says in the lawsuit.