Zinke bris­tles at Dems’ ques­tions

Law­mak­ers ques­tion his travel spend­ing amid park fee hikes

The Dallas Morning News - - Nation & World - Michael Biesecker and Matthew Daly, The As­so­ci­ated Press

WASH­ING­TON — In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke bris­tled Tues­day un­der ques­tion­ing by Democrats about his travel spend­ing as the Trump 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 most pop­u­lar national parks to help make up an $11 bil­lion back­log in needed main­te­nance. Mean­while, an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee has pro­posed cut­ting roy­alty fees paid by en­ergy com­pa­nies to drill for oil and nat­u­ral gas in fed­eral wa­ters.

Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, flashed 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 flights. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Wash­ing­ton asked Zinke if it was a mis­take for him to spend $12,375 on a latenight 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 ref­er­enced a re­port last week by The As­so­ci­ated Press that the In­te­rior Depart­ment was 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, the tone of his voice grow­ing sharp. “And I’ll go through line by line. … To al­lege that it’s a pri­vate jet is in­ap­pro­pri­ate, ma’am.”

Zinke is one of sev­eral mem­bers of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Cabi­net who have been un­der in­tense scru­tiny for ex­penses that crit­ics deemed ques­tionable. Records show he also spent more than $53,000 on three he­li­copter trips last sum­mer, in­clud­ing one that al­lowed him to re­turn to Wash­ing­ton in time to take a horse­back ride with Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence.

Sen. Ron Wy­den, D-ore., told Zinke that he had fallen far short of his pro­fessed role model, Theodore Roo­sevelt, a renowned con­ser­va­tion­ist who pro­tected about 230 mil­lion acres of pub­lic lands. By con­trast, Zinke “pushed the largest re­duc­tion of … trea­sured pub­lic lands in Amer­i­can his­tory,” pro­posed open­ing most of Amer­ica’s coasts to off­shore oil drilling, and “played a shell game” with wild­fire bud­get­ing dur­ing the most ex­pen­sive wild­fire sea­son in U.S. his­tory, Wy­den said.

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