Zinke leaving Interior at end of year
President Donald Trump tweeted Dec. 15 that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will leave his post at the end of the year. Zinke’s nearly two years in office have been marked by a rollback of conservation regulations including protection of the sage grouse, an effort with which the Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has also been involved.
Trump said he would name a successor soon, but Zinke’s deputy, David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, is expected to step in as acting head of the department.
The team of John Kelly, the departing White House chief of staff, told Zinke “that he should leave by year’s end or risk being fired in a potentially humiliating way, two people familiar with the discussion said,” according to a New York Times report.
Zinke has been under investigation for a number of ethical questions, but he has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, the Times noted.
“I love working for the president and am incredibly proud of all the good work we’ve accomplished together,” he said on Twitter. “However, after 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations.”
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said in a news release, “In the world of Washington politics, Zinke was an anomaly. He had a vision of a better future — an efficient department; a park system without a backlog; a staff who listened. Where others dithered, he got stuff done. We owe him a debt of gratitude.”
Steve Blackledge, senior director of Environment America’s conservation program, said, “It may have been the ethics inquiries that did him in, or perhaps it was always in the cards to do two years, but from where I stand, Secretary Zinke’s biggest failure is that he aspired to be a Teddy Roosevelt conservationist and fell woefully short.
“In May of this year, Secretary Zinke told the National Wild Turkey Federation that he would do a ‘grand pivot’ to conservation. Even if he was legitimately talking turkey, Zinke simply couldn’t pivot this administration away from its pro-drilling, pro-fossil fuel agenda.
“In his short tenure, Secretary Zinke pushed to expand offshore drilling to 90 percent of America’s coastlines. He led the charge to downsize many of our treasured national monuments and, depending on the courts, may have forever damaged Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. He moved aggressively to start oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And that’s not even the full of it.
“I’m convinced that Zinke does have pro-conservation inclinations somewhere in him. After all, as a Montana congressman he was a big champion of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. But as Interior secretary, he testified in support of the administration’s budget proposal to nearly end funding for the program.
“The next Interior secretary would do well to remember that Americans are wild about protecting our natural resources, and she or he should make the ‘grand pivot’ to conservation that Zinke never did,” Blackledge said.
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers President and CEO Land Tawney said, “Ryan Zinke came to the Interior Department with an ambitious vision for overseeing the nation’s great natural resources, but he ultimately broke his contract with the American people. His actions — such as undermining the federal Antiquities Act, diminishing good faith collaborative successes in sage grouse management, and pushing resource exploitation at the expense of conservation — eroded public goodwill.
“Our American public lands and waters are valuable beyond measure. Sportsmen and women have a special stake in enjoying them, conserving them and defending them,” Tawney said. “We do not want industrial interests dictating their management, and we will not stand for an administration that values the priorities of big business and a few deep-pocketed individuals over the will of the citizenry.” ❖