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Washington Notebook: More than a million across U.S. comment on monument reviews

WASHINGTON – The final tally isn’t in yet, but more than a million Americans submitted comments to the U.S. Department of the Interior about plans to review more than two dozen monuments, including two in New Mexico, and possibly reduce their size.

The deadline for submitting comments was midnight Monday. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Tuesday that more than 1.2 million comments were received through the Regulations.gov website and thousands more by traditional mail. Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, estimated that 2.5 million Americans voiced a position on the monuments review during the comments period.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

Whatever the final number, New Mexico Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both Democrats, said at a press conference Tuesday that they hope Zinke listens to the concerns of those who want the existing monuments preserved.

“That’s really the question here: Will the American people be heard as a part of this process?” Heinrich said.

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In a statement, the interior secretary assured the public that the comments will be taken into account.

“These comments, in addition to the extensive on-the-ground tours of monuments and meetings with stakeholders, will help inform my recommendations on the monuments,” Zinke said. “I appreciate everyone who took the time to log on or write in and participate in our government.”

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument near Las Cruces and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico are both on a list of monuments Zinke is reviewing for possible changes. Zinke said last month that he would recommend that President Donald Trump reduce the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

The interior secretary said in early June that he planned to visit New Mexico as part of the review process, but an Interior Department spokeswoman said Tuesday that details of the visit still were not available. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is viewed as particularly susceptible to a shrinkage recommendation from Zinke, partly because Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., supports a reduction of the monument, which is in his congressional district. Pearce has said the sprawling designation – more than a half-million acres – hinders economic development and border law enforcement.

Udall, a former New Mexico attorney general, has said that under his interpretation of existing law it would be illegal to reduce the size of national monuments. He said that if either monument in New Mexico were altered under the Trump administration, the matter would wind up in court.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Recess delayed: Congressional staffers hoping to take time off in early August need to rethink their travel plans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday that the congressional recess in August will be delayed in the Senate for two weeks to allow the chamber to finish work on health care legislation and other priorities. Barring any changes in scheduling, senators should be allowed to head home for their annual recess beginning Aug. 14.

Michael Coleman: mcoleman@abqjournal.com

 

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