Zinke interior nomination shocks ag community
President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., as interior secretary has sent shockwaves through Washington’s agricultural establishment — not because they object to Zinke, but because it was not expected.
On Dec, 13, as numerous media outlets said that Trump had chosen Zinke, many lobbyists were attending the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual Taste of the States reception.
One lobbyist said that the lobbying community had gotten used to the idea that, as rumored earlier, Trump would appoint Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. Many lobbyists have known McMorris Rodgers for years and believed they could work with her, but have not paid much attention to Zinke, who has served one term in the House after a career as a Navy Seal.
The Trump transition team has not formally announced the intention to nominate Zinke, but the apparent choice was surprising for several reasons.
Zinke had been expected to challenge Sen. Jon Tester, R-Mont., in 2018, and his move to the Department of the Interior would remove him from consideration for that candidacy unless he were to be at the department for only a short time.
The choice of Zinke also means that Trump’s selection for ag secretary could be a surprise.
Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said last week she was not interested in the job. Members of the Trump agriculture advisory committee have vigorously opposed the possibility of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. And Trump already formally announced his intent to nominate former Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, a former Texas agriculture commissioner, as energy secretary.
So far, the only candidate for ag secretary who has been publicly interviewed is former Georgia Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue.
In the case of other announcements of Trump nominations, if there has been a long period between the interview and the nomination, the interviewee has usually not gotten the job. But one lobbyist at the AFBF reception said that Perdue is still in the running, along with Charles Herbster, the Nebraska rancher and businessman who has chaired Trump’s ag advisory committee.
The third possibility is that Trump will name someone from Indiana, although it is not clear at this point who that would be. Another lobbyist said that Ted McKinney, Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s ag director in Indiana, is working behind the scenes with the Trump transition team on agricultural issues.
The prospect of Zinke’s nomination received mixed reviews.
Zinke has opposed the efforts of some conservatives to sell off federal lands to states or private interests. Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a news release that Zinke’s opposition to the sale of federal lands is the “bright side” of his nomination and “is in keeping with positions taken by Donald Trump and his son Donald Jr.”
But, Suckling added, “Unfortunately, Zinke has championed the same result — greatly increased logging, mining and oil drilling, greatly reduced environmental protections, elimination of federal control, and weakening of environmental standards — by turning over public land management to industry-dominated panels appointed by state governors. In Zinke’s scheme, industry and state interests get all the environmental destruction and profit they want, with the federal government being made to pay for it through nominal retention of land title.”
Zinke “led efforts to strip federal protections for endangered wolves, lynx and sage grouse, voted to exempt massive agribusiness and water developers from Endangered Species Act limitations, and opposed efforts to crack down on the international black market ivory trade,” Suckling said. “Zinke consistently votes for the interests of oil and gas companies, which is not surprising since Oasis Petroleum is his largest campaign contributor, and the oil and gas industry is his third-largest sector contributor.
“He has also voted against and attacked the establishment of protective national monuments on public lands. Zinke’s cynically named ‘Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015’ was one of several schemes he led to turn control of public land 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,” Suckling added.
Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship said it was pleased with the apparent Zinke nomination.
“The congressman has shown a commitment to stewardship of our nation’s public lands, and to the vision, legacy and conservation ethic of Theodore Roosevelt – qualities that should be a prerequisite for the position,” CRS President David Jenkins said in a news release. “Our hope and expectation is that he will remain a champion of America’s natural heritage and be ever vigilant against short-sighted efforts to exploit and diminish our national parks, refuges, monuments and other conservation lands.” ❖