Does it Surprise Anyone that Trump's Pick for Managing Public Lands has a Wishy-Washy Record on Public Lands?
Numerous nominations from the President-elect have created a flurry of emotions; anger, nervousness, despair, surprise, and some of them all at once. Most recently the nomination for the Department of Interior has shocked us again.
The first Navy SEAL elected into the House of Representatives, Congressman Ryan Zinke, has been all-but officially nominated to lead the Department of Interior and oversee the agencies responsible for managing our National Parks, wildlife and their refuges, and millions of acres of landscapes owned and managed on behalf of all Americans. His efforts to keep public lands public, and to fund key natural resource programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, has almost created a glimpse of hope for conservationist. But this shining moment of hope is quickly diminished after a closer examination into the Montana Congressman’s at best wishy-washy policy record.
Congressman Zinke’s position on keeping public lands is supposed to be his redeeming quality, especially when compared to other Interior nominees floated for the position, like Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin or Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Both those candidates had a much more obvious hostility to national public lands. Zinke, in contrast, made a show of resigning from the GOP Platform committee when it insisted on including language supporting the transfer or sale of public lands.
Unfortunately, Zinke’s record tells a different story than the “pro-public lands” one touted by his supporters. Earlier this year, he voted against the transfer of 2 million acres of public land to states’ ownership (H.R. 3650), and then turned around and voted to enact a pilot program to cede management authority of up to 4 million acres of federally owned public lands to states (H.R 2316). While H.R 2316 may not formally privatize public lands, it would allow states to start managing these lands and was regarded as the first step to selling them off. Congressman Zinke’s claimed protections of public lands are thin at best, and this pilot program would directly go against keeping public lands public. In fact, Zinke's House of Representatives colleague and anti-public lands zealot Rob Bishop has called his touted public lands defense position "spin."
While Congressman Zinke has supported strong funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, he still has no consistent position on climate change. In 2010, then-state senator Zinke signed a letter pressuring President Obama and Congress to pass legislation on clean energy and climate change, but then in 2014 while running for Congress, Zinke flipped his position on climate change by challenging the scientific evidence behind global warming. Since this flip in position Zinke has taken large contributions from the oil and gas industry and strongly supported loopholes for his supporting coal industries.
Congressman Zinke’s support and advocacy for the coal industry only shows his complete disregard for the changing climate and public lands that are the natural heritage for future generations. Not only has he continually aided in the coal companies’ dream of preserving loopholes in policy to avoid royalty payments to local communities and U.S. taxpayers alike, he has also believes that fossil fuels are pertinent to “energy independence.” Zinke’s once call for climate change legislation now promotes and supports the degradation of lands for fossil fuel extraction. The Congressman has continually criticized the Clean Power Plan, which is a policy to combat climate change, and instead supported the devastating construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. His back and forth support for public lands while also supporting the penetration of our natural places for extraction purposes is alarming.
Zinke’s flip-flop on climate change and the privatization of public lands only further raise questions about his policy positions. If the coal industry’s coffers can persuade the Congressman from supporting climate change initiatives, to advocating coal extraction, then which other positions will he flip on? Will the next flip be our public lands going into the deepest pockets? These policy flips are unacceptable and the public will hold the Congressman accountable to his promises to keep public lands public and to support climate change solutions.