Agency managing vast US lands experiences year of upheaval

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A year of upheaval at the U.S. Interior Department has seen dozens of staff members re-assigned, key positions go unfilled, rules governing industry shelved and a sweeping reorganization proposed for its 70,000 employees.

The agency’s evolving status quo has met with praise from energy and mining companies and congressional Republicans.

They welcome the change from perceived heavy-handed regulation under President Barack Obama.

But the realignment has met resistance from Democrats, conservation groups and some Interior employees.

They say Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has elevated corporate desires above the agency’s duty to safeguard public lands and resources.

Zinke says he wants more decisions made at regional levels to streamline an agency that oversees more than 780,000 square miles (2 million square kilometers) of public lands and much of the nation’s natural resources.