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Posted: 2018-02-21 20:48:30

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks at the Interior Department in Washington on March 29. (Molly Riley/AP)

Two senior U.S. Geological Survey officials have stepped down after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke asked that they provide his office with confidential data on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska before it was released to the general public.

Murray W. Hitzman and Larry Meinert — who had served as the agency’s associate director for energy and minerals and acting deputy associate director for energy and minerals mission area, respectively — charge that the request violated the USGS’s scientific integrity policy because such commercially valuable data should not be shared in advance. Section 3c of the policy states, “Particularly sensitive results, however, such as energy and mineral resource assessments and mineral commodity reports that typically have significant economic implications are not disclosed or shared in advance of public release because pre-release in these cases could result in unfair advantage or the perception of unfair advantage.”

Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift, however, said Wednesday that the solicitor’s office had determined that Zinke and his deputy, David Bernhardt, have to right to “review data, draft reports, or other information as it deems necessary” under the department’s 1950 reorganization plan.

The dispute, which was first reported Wednesday by Mother Jones magazine, represents the latest clash between career federal scientists and the Trump administration. Scientists at Interior, as well as at the Environmental Protection Agency and elsewhere in the government, have raised objections over issues ranging from the scrubbing of data from government websites to limits imposed on what federal scientists can say in public about their work.

Hitzman offered his resignation letter on Dec. 17, saying that he objected to the idea of providing the results of an assessment of the energy reserve’s potential “several days in advance of

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