President-elect Donald Trump has selected first-term Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke to lead the Interior Department, multiple news outlets reported last night.
Zinke is a fifth-generation Montanan who served for 23 years as a Navy SEAL and then three years in the Montana Senate before being elected to the House. He comes to the table with strong feelings about keeping federal lands in the hands of the government, a belief that “something is going on” with the climate and an embrace of an “all of the above” energy policy.
“Congressman Zinke is a strong advocate for American energy independence. And he supports an all-encompassing energy policy that includes renewable, fossil fuels and alternative energy,” Trump's communications director, Jason Miller, said earlier this week. “Additionally, Congressman Zinke believes we need to find a way to cut through bureaucracy to ensure our nation's parks, forests and other public areas are properly maintained and used effectively.”
Zinke, who came out in support of Trump in May, met with the president-elect Monday afternoon at Trump Tower in Manhattan. Talk of his appointment comes just days after sources had indicated Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) would be Trump's pick for the agency, which oversees more than 500 million acres of land for energy development and recreational use.
But a source close to McMorris Rodgers said yesterday evening that she had never received an offer from the president-elect to lead Interior, nor had she received a phone call yesterday alerting her that Trump was going in another direction.
In a Facebook update posted last night, McMorris Rodgers wrote, “It was an honor to be invited to spend time with the President-elect, and I'm energized more than ever to continue leading in Congress as we think big, reimagine this government, and put people back at the center of it.”
As environmental groups turned their attention to Zinke, many described the 55-year-old House Natural Resource Committee member's record on public lands and conservation as a mixed bag.
Resigned from RNC over public lands control
Zinke has called for the full and permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program created to protect and purchase public lands and embraced by green groups. He also has come out in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline and against Interior regulations to limit methane waste from oil and gas wells.
“While he has steered clear of efforts to sell off public lands and supported the Land and Water Conservation Fund, far more often Rep. Zinke has advanced policies that favor special interests,” said Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society, in a statement. “His overall record and the backdrop of cabinet nominations with close ties to the fossil fuel industry cause us grave concern.”
He has amassed praise from some Western conservation groups in large part because he has repeatedly voted against measures to sell off public lands.
In July, he resigned from the Republican National Committee because the party platform included language supporting the disposal of public lands to state control.
“I'm a Teddy Roosevelt guy — I buck the party when it needs to be bucked,” Zinke told E&E News at the Republican National Convention (Greenwire, July 19).
In a Facebook post Monday, David Allen, president of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said he liked the idea of Zinke in the top spot at Interior, “given his understanding of and support for sportsmen, public lands and natural resource issues.”
As Montana's only representative in the House, Zinke has also been a strong supporter of Montana coal and has expressed concern over a three-year leasing moratorium and programmatic review of the federal coal program undertaken this year by Interior.
He sponsored legislation to ensure that states and tribes have a say in changes to federal coal, oil and gas royalties or leasing policy. H.R. 5259 would re-establish a federal advisory panel to give states and tribes a greater voice on leasing issues and calls on Interior to complete its programmatic review of the federal coal program by Jan. 15, 2019. The moratorium would end four days later. The bill would also exempt certain leases from the moratorium altogether.
“You will see the glacier recede while you eat lunch”
Forest issues have also been a priority for the congressman. Zinke contributed language to H.R. 2647, the “Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015,” that his office said would “encourage local collaboration on timber projects, curb frivolous lawsuits, and prevent catastrophic wildfires.”
Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement the bill — despite being touted as good for the environment — “was one of several schemes he led to turn control of public land to industry dominated panels.”
“It was widely opposed by conservationists, sportsmen, business and even some timber companies for dispensing with environmental laws and public involvement in order to ramp up unsustainable logging levels,” he said.
The congressman has worked closely with the Crow Tribe during his two years in Congress and sponsored legislation to formally recognize Montana's Little Shell Chippewa Tribe. Among its vast responsibilities, Interior oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which manages energy development on tribal lands.
The League of Conservation Voters gives Zinke a 3 percent lifetime score on environmental issues. He has said climate change is real, but that the degree to which human activity is to blame is unsettled. “It's not a hoax, but it's not a proven science, either,” he said during one debate in 2014.
In an audio recording posted by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, he said, “Without question, the climate's changing.”
“If you go up to Glacier Park and have your lunch along the glaciers, you will see the glacier recede while you eat lunch,” he said. “I have seen it change in my lifetime.”
He went on to note that he disagreed with President Obama's assertion that climate change played a role in Superstorm Sandy, and disputed that the last 16 years have been some of the warmest on record. He advocated for an “all of the above” energy strategy, including investment to make burning coal cleaner.
“Something is going on, so I think you need to be prudent,” he said. “That does not mean, I don't think, you have to be destructive on fossil fuels.”
Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.