The Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee today begins a nomination hearing on President-elect Trump’s selection of Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) as the next secretary of the Interior. As secretary Zinke would oversee the nation’s more than 1,500 endangered species, hundreds of millions of acres of public land, including national parks, high deserts and national wildlife refuges. The Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter of opposition to members of the committee in advance of today’s hearing.
The incoming Interior secretary will decide the fate of several high-profile Obama administration environmental decisions, including the moratorium on most new federal coal leases and protection of imperiled species like the greater sage grouse.
During his short time in Congress, Rep. Zinke has earned a 3 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters. When given the opportunity, he has voted consistently against protecting America’s public lands, waters and native wildlife while prioritizing the narrow, short-term interests of corporate and extractive industries.
“Zinke’s brief political career has been substantially devoted to attacking endangered species and the Endangered Species Act,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center. “He led efforts to strip federal protections for endangered wolves, sage grouse and other wildlife, voted to exempt massive agribusiness and water developers from Endangered Species Act rules, and opposed efforts to crack down on the international black market ivory trade.”
In 2012 Zinke signed the extremist “Montana Constitutional Governance Pledge” promising to “legally and administratively oppose the multitude of bureaucracies that have sprung up to enforce the unlawful seizure of our native land and its resources including, but not limited to: the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Park Service, the various bureaus of Wildlife and Fisheries, etc., and restore the rightful powers over the land to the State and private ownership.”
“If Rep. Zinke is confirmed he would be in charge of the very agencies that this pledge promises to eviscerate,” said Suckling. “During confirmation hearings the Senate needs to thoroughly question Zinke on his stated intentions to hand over federal authority to the state and private interests.”
Zinke has voted for the cynically named “Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015,” one of several schemes to turn control of public land over to industry-dominated panels. It was widely opposed by conservationists, sportsmen, businesses and even some timber companies for dispensing with environmental laws and public involvement in order to ramp up unsustainable logging levels.
The coal, oil and gas industries have heavily funded Zinke’s congressional campaigns. Since 2011 he has taken $345,136 from oil and gas industries. He has changed his public position on climate change and now says that it is “not proven science.” He also introduced legislation to overturn President Obama’s moratorium on the federal coal program that contributes significantly to U.S. emissions.
“Zinke champions turning control of public lands over to states and private interests to greatly increase logging, livestock grazing, mining and oil and gas drilling while significantly reducing environmental protections and public input,” Suckling said. “Under such a scheme, the federal government, taxpayers and wildlife would bear the costs through nominal retention of land title.”