Zinke Gets Failing Grade as SecInt

Many in the so-called conservation community were willing to give Ryan Zinke, our former representative in Congress, some cautious approval when the president nominated him to be Secretary of Interior.

Some were dismayed because Zinke is a hunter, for Pete’s sake. That gave others reason to be encouraged that being a hunter, and from Montana, no less, that at least he might not be totally clueless when it comes to public land and environmental issues.

At the time of his confirmation hearings, Zinke declared himself as a Teddy Roosevelt-type Republican and a protector of public lands, pointing out that he passed on being a delegate to the Republican national convention because the party platform called for transfer of public lands to the states.

Since his appointment, and riding to work on a horse his first day on the job at Interior, Zinke has demonstrated that he may be The Donald’s errand boy, but he’s no friend of the environment or our public lands.

During Zinke’s short tenure as Montana’s lone congressman, he took, according to Ted Williams, writing in Hatch, the online fly-fishing magazine, $300,000 in donations from the oil and gas industry and earned an environmental voting record, as compiled by the League of Conservation voters, of 4 percent. Now, as reported by the Denver Post, he’s trying to turn the Interior’s lands into “profit centers” for the government by accelerating oil and coal development.

As for being a T.R. Republican, we might look at Zinke’s actions regarding national monuments. Following the president’s directive to review the status of national monuments created in the last 20 years, Zinke did announce that he’d recommend that the Missouri Breaks National Monument remain unchanged.

On the other hand, Zinke made a tour of the Bears Ear National Monument in Utah and spent a full day listening to local opponents of the monument, while giving a scant hour of time to the Native American tribes that had been working many years for monument status because of the many antiquities in the area, as well as the unique landscape.

More recently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a visit to Glacier National Park to tour the melting ice fields. Before the visit took place, Interior and National Park Service officials sent a directive that the Park’s top research ecologist and the Park superintendent would not participate in Zuckerberg’s tour.

In the last few weeks, some Interior climate scientists have been reassigned to relatively meaningless assignments. An example is Joel Clement, Interior’s top climate policy official, who was reassigned to an Interior agency that tracks royalty payments.

On July 20, Zinke was a speaker at a closed-door meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an industry organization backed by the Koch Industries and ExxonMobil that advocates for conservative causes. Speeches by some other attendees, such as Newt Gingrich and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos were recorded, Zinke’s speech was, according to High Country News, not recorded, nor were any transcripts released.

Zinke’s eagerness to run errands for his boss blew up in his face a couple weeks ago when he called Alaska’s Republican senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan to threaten retribution if they didn’t toe the line on the administration’s healthcare bill, including, according to the Washington Post, blocking energy exploration and plans to allow the construction of new roads. Or, as one observer noted, he threatened to, of all things, protect the environment.

Sen. Murkowski, as we know, still voted against the “skinny repeal” bill, not worried about Zinke’s threats.

In the Post’s daily news summary, The Daily 202, the Post commented, “This demonstrated the degree to which Zinke’s ham-handed phone call was political malpractice…Only an amateur would threaten the person who has oversight over his agency! If she wants, Murkowski can make Zinke’s life so unbelievably miserable. He has no idea.”

Note: last week, Zinke told the Associated Press that the idea that he threatened Murkowski is “laughable.”

Zinke might be from Montana, but he’s no Teddy Roosevelt. As head of Interior, his first priority should be to keep public lands intact, healthy, and not a profit center.

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