Mont. con­gress­man is new in­te­rior sec­re­tary

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Jen­nifer Dlouhy

Ryan Zinke, who calls him­self a “Teddy Roo­sevelt Repub­li­can,” is ex­pected to move to ex­ploit fed­eral lands for en­ergy uses.

The Se­nate con­firmed Ryan Zinke to lead the In­te­rior Depart­ment, putting a self-de­scribed “Teddy Roo­sevelt Repub­li­can” in charge of mak­ing de­ci­sions about where and whether —

to al­low drilling and min­ing — on U.S. pub­lic lands.

Roughly 20 per­cent of the na­tion’s land is now un­der Zinke’s watch, af­ter the Se­nate’s 68-31 vote to clear the fifth-gen­er­a­tion Mon­tanan to be the na­tion’s 52nd in­te­rior sec­re­tary Wed­nes­day.

With Zinke at the helm, Trump’s In­te­rior Depart­ment is set to pri­or­i­tize coal, oil and nat­u­ral gas de­vel­op­ment over re­new­able projects on fed­eral lands and waters. And at least one change could hap­pen right away: Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has vowed to lift an Obama-era mora­to­rium on new sales of fed­er­ally owned coal, and Zinke can re­scind that ban by a sec­re­tar­ial or­der.

“He knows we must strike this bal­ance be­tween con­ser­va­tion and re­spon­si­ble en­ergy de­vel­op­ment,” Sen. Steve Daines, a Repub­li­can from Mon­tana, said ahead of the vote Wed­nes­day. “He un­der­stands more than any­one I know that these one-size-fits-all poli­cies of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., never work for ru­ral Amer­ica.”

The In­te­rior Depart­ment is on the front lines of Trump’s re­peated pledge to ex­pand U.S. en­ergy de­vel­op­ment and re­move “ob­sta­cles” to ex­plo­ration. Un­der Zinke, the depart­ment is ex­pected to be­gin rewrit­ing a plan for leas­ing oil and gas leases in U.S. waters to fold in Arc­tic and At­lantic acreage left out of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sale sched­ule. It also may work to undo a last-minute de­ci­sion by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to rule out fu­ture leas­ing in more than 100 mil­lion acres of the U.S. Arc­tic as well as un­der­sea canyons in the At­lantic Ocean. The In­te­rior Depart­ment will have to jus­tify those pol­icy re­ver­sals.

“Mod­i­fy­ing a leas­ing pro­gram is a heavy po­lit­i­cal lift,” said Kevin Ewing, a part­ner at Bracewell LLP. “It’s also a heavy le­gal lift be­cause you need a record that fully sup­ports the re­vi­sion or the sub­sti­tu­tion you make.”

Democrats en­cour­aged Zinke not to aban­don a broad, un­der­ly­ing re­view of the fed­eral coal leas­ing pro­gram that was de­signed to co­in­cide with the mora­to­rium. In Jan­uary the In­te­rior Depart­ment rec­om­mended fur­ther study of ideas for over­haul­ing the way the U.S. sells coal on fed­eral land, in­clud­ing pro­pos­als to em­bed car­bon costs into leases and re­quire com­pa­nies to pay into funds to help outof-work min­ers.

At a con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing in Jan­uary, Zinke promised to be a ste­ward of the na­tion’s pub­lic lands and waters by re­spon­si­bly balanc­ing en­ergy de­vel­op­ment, recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties and preser­va­tion. While some lands “de­serve spe­cial recog­ni­tion” and are best in­su­lated from de­vel­op­ment, Zinke said, most fed­eral hold­ings are bet­ter suited for an ar­ray of mul­ti­ple uses.

Some Se­nate Democrats were not con­vinced. Wash­ing­ton state’s Maria Cantwell, the top Demo­crat on the Se­nate En­ergy and Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee, said she op­posed Zinke be­cause she didn’t think he’d be a check against Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion poli­cies to ex­pand en­ergy de­vel­op­ment on pub­lic lands.

As in­te­rior sec­re­tary, Zinke will be “re­quired to man­age our pub­lic lands for the ben­e­fit of all Amer­i­cans — not just the oil, gas and min­ing com­pa­nies and their com­mer­cial in­ter­ests,” Cantwell said. “I’m not sure he will be able to stand up to the pres­i­dent and pro­tect the pub­lic in­ter­est.”

An avid hunter and an­gler, Zinke, 55, has en­dorsed a per­ma­nent ex­ten­sion of the Land and Wa­ter Con­ser­va­tion Fund, which uses rev­enue from off­shore oil and gas de­vel­op­ment to help states build out­door recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties and pur­chase new ter­ri­tory for re­cre­ation. He has em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of re­build­ing re­la­tion­ships with landown­ers and lo­cal gov­ern­ments in the West an­gry with fed­eral man­age­ment poli­cies. And Zinke has said he wants to ad­dress a $12.5 bil­lion back­log of main­te­nance needs in na­tional parks.

A for­mer mem­ber of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six, Zinke was awarded two Bronze Stars for mis­sions in Iraq. Af­ter leav­ing the Navy, he was elected to rep­re­sent his north­ern Mon­tana home of White­fish in the state Se­nate be­fore as­cend­ing to Congress, where he was just re-elected for a sec­ond term.

ALEX WONG / GETTY IM­AGES

In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke might pri­or­i­tize de­vel­op­ing coal, oil and nat­u­ral gas over re­new­able projects on fed­eral lands and waters.

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