The Senate confirmed Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) to lead the Interior Department Wednesday. The former Navy Seal will now manage about 500 million acres, or one-fifth of all American land.
Zinke has described himself as a modern-day Teddy Roosevelt. He resigned as a delegate to the GOP convention last year after the party approved a platform that required selling federal lands. And he’s promised to implement maintenance and repair of national parks where needed.
But earlier this year, Zinke voted in favor of a House rule that would make drilling and development on public lands easier. And his campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry – totaling nearly half a million dollars – place him 22nd in a ranking of House members who accept industry money.
Despite his apparent willingness to break with his party, Republicans were satisfied with him. Sen. Lisa Mukowski (R-Alaska) said:
“I believe Representative Zinke is a solid choice for this position. While we may not agree on every issue … I believe he will work with us in a thoughtful manner that is reflective of a true partnership.”
The Left was split over Zinke’s nomination. Progressives, led by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), quizzed Zinke about climate change during his confirmation hearing in January. Sanders asked Zinke if he believed – as President Donald Trump does – that climate change was a hoax. While Zinke agreed that climate change was real, he maintained that there was ongoing debate about it. Sanders quickly corrected him, saying:
“Actually, there’s not a lot of debate. The scientific community is virtually unanimous that climate change is real and causing devastating problems.”
Unfortunately, many Democrats were unwilling to spend political capital on opposing Zinke.
The final tally was 68-31, with 16 Democratic senators – including former vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine (D-Vir.) – and one independent voting in support.
Kieran Suckling, executive director at the Center for Biological Diversity, rightly condemned the Democrats who crossed party lines, saying:
“If Democrats want to know why their base is frustrated, this shameful vote is a good illustration of how out of touch some senators are.”
Other environmental groups were quick to criticize Zinke’s confirmation. The Sierra Club released a statement that reads, in part:
“The confirmation of Rep. Zinke as Interior Secretary jeopardizes the future of our great outdoors, and the people, wildlife, and economies that depend on them.
“The majority of Americans want to see our public lands protected for future generations to enjoy, not sold off or plundered for the financial benefit of the few. Yet as a Congressman, Zinke repeatedly sold out to corporate polluters.”
And the executive director of 350.org, May Boeve, said:
“Once again, the Trump administration is stacking their cards in favor of the fossil fuel industry. Zinke is another climate science-denier with ties to Big Oil who won’t lift a finger for real climate action. His agenda will put communities in danger and, if the coal moratorium is lifted, would spell disaster for the climate.
“People across the country have been resisting the fossil fuel industry’s grasp on public lands for years, and we’ll continue fighting to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
Featured image via C-SPAN video.