Freshman Congressman Ryan Zinke from Montana is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Interior Secretary. The Interior Department oversees one fifth of federal lands in this country, including national parks from Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon.
Last week Zinke said he was quote, “honored and humbled to be asked to serve Montana and America.”
The nomination unleashed a mixed bag of reactions.
“We’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst,” said Drew Caputo, vice president of litigations at Earthjustice’s headquarters in San Francisco. Earthjustice is a law firm that frequently litigates endangered species, water and public lands issues.
“Congressman Zinke has shown some important independence from Republican party orthodoxy on a couple of environmental issues,” Caputo added.
For example, Zinke talks big about keeping public lands in federal hands and broke from the GOP in voting in favor of clean energy funding for the Department of Energy.
“He prides himself on being a ‘Theodore Roosevelt Republican,’” said Land Tawney, the CEO of Missoula-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
“What Theodore Roosevelt did when he helped set aside this large public land estate that we have and so it’s important for him to continue this legacy,” Tawney said. “And he said he wants to do that and we expect him to do that.”
Tawney said Zinke’s nomination could be a boon to hunters and anglers, in part, because the Congressman supports the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses federal oil and gas royalties to buy and protect properties.
But Earthjustice’s Drew Caputo said that’s only half the story.
“Literally the rest of his voting record during his two years in congress is awful for the environment,” Caputo said.
Zinke has voted against new fracking regulations on federal public lands, voted to limit the president’s ability to designate National Monuments and has favored bills with riders that weaken the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. This voting record earned him a low three-percent rating with the League of Conservation Voters last year.
In addition, Caputo worried Zinke may feel beholden to fossil fuel industries, which contributed $200,000 to his 2016 campaign.
“In order to be an effective Interior Secretary and steward these priceless public resources that belong to all Americans, a critical part of the job is standing up to industry,” Caputo says.
For their part, industry leaders are optimistic a Zinke-led Interior Department will mean a rollback in current oil and gas leasing and drilling restrictions on federal lands.
“What we would like from Ryan is regulatory certainty,” said Alan Olson, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association.
Olson said under the Obama administration, rule-making has skyrocketed, adding burdens to an already over-regulated industry.
Olson said the BLM should take a note from how western states regulate on state lands.
“I think we can cut down our permitting time,” he said. “I think there needs to be some look at the cost of drilling permits.”
Zinke is also receiving strong support from Indian Country.
“He’s been a listener, he listens to our needs and he understands those needs,” said William Snell, a member of the Crow tribe and is executive director of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council.
Snell says quality of life on reservations can change for the better if the Interior Secretary has experience working with tribes, as Zinke does. And he hopes Zinke improves the government-to-government relationship between federal agencies and tribes, an issue front and center in the Dakota Access pipeline dispute.
“I know that the law requires consultation with tribes but we hope it’s not just a gesture and a process, not something just has to be done, but actually a true partnership,” Snell says.
Moving forward, Congressman Zinke’s appointment will need to be confirmed by the Senate, which could happen any time after President Elect Trump is inaugurated on January 20th.
This story comes to us courtesy of Montana Public Radio.