Talk of fees, travel irks In­te­rior agency’s Zinke

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL -

WASH­ING­TON — In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke bris­tled Tues­day un­der ques­tion­ing by Democrats about his travel spend­ing as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion seeks deep cuts to con­ser­va­tion pro­grams and fee in­creases at na­tional parks.

Zinke tes­ti­fied be­fore a Se­nate com­mit­tee about the agency’s pro­posed $11.7 bil­lion bud­get for 2019.

He has pro­posed dou­bling en­try fees dur­ing peak sea­sons at some of the na­tion’s most pop­u­lar na­tional parks to help make up for an $11 bil­lion back­log in needed main­te­nance.

The for­mer Navy SEAL flashed with anger when the En­ergy and Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee’s rank­ing Demo­crat pressed him on whether he could jus­tify in­creas­ing ac­cess fees for work­ing Amer­i­cans when he has been spend­ing tax­payer money on char­tered air­plane flights. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Wash­ing­ton asked Zinke if it was a mis­take for him to spend $12,375 on a late-night trip in June from Las Ve­gas to his home state of Mon­tana on a pri­vate jet.

“Well, first, in­sults and in­nu­en­dos are mis­lead­ing. I never took a pri­vate jet any­where,” Zinke said, adding that all three flights he had taken on pri­vate planes as sec­re­tary were on air­craft driven by pro­pel­lers, not jet en­gines.

Zinke also re­ferred to a re­port last week by The As­so­ci­ated Press that the In­te­rior De­part­ment is spend­ing nearly $139,000 to up­grade three sets of dou­ble doors in his of­fice at the agency’s head­quar­ters.

“I resent the fact of your in­sults, I resent the fact they’re mis­lead­ing, I resent the fact of the doors,” Zinke said to Cantwell. “And I’ll go through line by line. … To al­lege that it’s a pri­vate jet is in­ap­pro­pri­ate, ma’am.”

The In­te­rior De­part­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Zinke’s travel and is ex­pected to is­sue a re­port within a few weeks.

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