Revisiting America’s Best Idea: Meet the Next Interior Secretary

Tom Warwick

Editor’s Note: A few weeks after being elected, President Trump announced that he would be nominating Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke to be the next Secretary of the Interior. Given the Importance of this position in relation to the National Park’s Service, the editors of the FFB thought it appropriate to include a profile of the Congressman in our Revisiting America’s Best Idea Series.

“He shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States” – US Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2

Congressman Ryan Zinke (R-MT-00) was born and raised in Montana.  He attended the University of Oregon where he played football and studied geology. After graduating in 1984, Zinke would go on to join the US Navy and serve as a SEAL. While in the Navy, Zinke would be awarded two Bronze Stars, four Meritorious Service Medals, two Joint Service Commendation medals, two Defense Meritorious Service Medals, and an Army Commendation Medal. Zinke retired from the service in 2008 with the rank of Commander and go on to form his own business.  In 2008, Zinke would take his first steps into politics as a member of the Montana State Senate. In 2014, after an unsuccessful run for Lieutenant Governor, Zinke announced that he would run for the State’s at-large congressional district.  He would go on to beat democratic challenger John Lewis (no…not that John Lewis) by fifteen percent.

While in the House, Zinke has typically stuck to the Republican line. On Climate Change, Zinke has said that while “evidence strongly suggests” that human activity contributed to global warming, “rising ocean temperatures” and other factors “have a greater influence.”  He has come out against tax subsidies for renewable energy sources such as wind generation, arguing they should compete on their own merits in the marketplace. He supported the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run through eastern Montana. The Billings Gazette quoted Zinke as saying, “I’m a Montana conservative. I like infrastructure.” Zinke has opposed a recent Interior Department rule setting standards for emissions of methane for oil and natural-gas wells on public lands, citing his belief that the regulations are “duplicative and unnecessary.”  During his time in Congress, Zinke has earned a 3% voting score with the League of Conservation Voters, and has voted against endangered species protections, ocean protection policies, and fisheries management measures.

While Congressman Zinke has been less-than-great (awful really…) on many of the issues he would oversee as Secretary of the interior, there are a few glistening rays of hope. For one, Zinke has been a vocal supporter of the Land and Water Conservation fund, which uses revenues from oil and gas production to help support conservation of public lands and water. Zinke has also been a strong opponent of the recent efforts to sell off Public Land. In July of 2016, the Congressman withdrew as a delegate to the Republican nominating convention in protest of the plank in the party’s official platform calling for the transfer of public lands to the states.  Zinke said that he preferred “better management of federal land” over state control.

In his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Zinke outlined what his priorities would be, should he be confirmed. Zinke stated that he would begin by “prioritizing the estimated $12.5 billion in backlog of maintenance and repair in our national parks.” Zinke noted that projects should include fixing sewers and restrooms at parks in the West, finding ways to develop land just outside national parks. The Congressman indicated that he would advocate for the inclusion of these projects in the President’s infrastructure spending plans.  During the hearings the Congressman also addressed the need to build stronger relationships with Native American tribes, the need to rebuild trust among state governments and the Department of the Interior, and his intentions to “go into the fields and listen” to the average Interior employee so that he can better address the issues of morale within the Department.  

We are encouraged that the Congressman is a strong opponent of the sale of public lands or their transfer to the states. We are also incredibly thankful that Zinke has publically stated that he does not believe Climate Change is a “hoax,” However, the fact that we are excited about him saying that he doesn’t think Climate Change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese should give you a hint as to how low our expectations for this new Administration have fallen.  In the end Zinke will most likely be confirmed by the Senate. He is mainstream Republican enough for the GOP and the Democrats have bigger fights to win. In the opinion of this lowly blog writer,  Zinke is the broccoli of this round of confirmation hearings: I don’t like him and I would prefer something else, but at least he isn’t brussel sprouts.

We will continue to update this article as the final confirmation vote approaches. Continue checking back for these updates and for the next post in the “Revisiting America’s Best Idea” series.

Photo Credit: CNN

UPDATE: 2 March 2017: The Senate voted to confirm Zinke as Interior Secretary was confirmed in a 68-31 vote. His confirmation process was smooth and comparatively uncontroversial, and failed to make any national headlines in the midst of the chaos that has been the first month of the Trump administration.

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