Mon­tana Rep. Zinke is Trump’s nom­i­nee for sec­re­tary of in­te­rior

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By Juliet Eilperin

Pres­i­dent-elect Trump has tapped GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke, who has rep­re­sented Mon­tana’s at-large con­gres­sional seat for one term, to serve as sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment of the In­te­rior, ac­cord­ing to an in­di­vid­ual with first-hand knowl­edge of the de­ci­sion.

Zinke, who stud­ied geology as an un­der­grad­u­ate at the Univer­sity of Ore­gon and served as a Navy SEAL from 1986 to 2008 be­fore en­ter­ing pol­i­tics, cam­paigned for his House seat on a plat­form of achiev­ing North Amer­i­can en­ergy in­de­pen­dence. He sits on the House Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee as well as the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

A life­long hunter and fish­er­man, the 55-year-old Zinke has de­fended pub­lic ac­cess to fed­eral lands even though he fre­quently votes against en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists. This sum­mer, he quit his post as a mem­ber of the GOP plat­form-writ­ing com­mit­tee af­ter the group in­cluded lan­guage that would have trans­ferred fed­eral land own­er­ship to the states.

“What I saw was a plat­form that was more di­vi­sive than unit­ing,” Zinke said at the time. “At this point, I think it’s bet­ter to show leadership.”

Trump also op­poses such land trans­fers, but the pro­vi­sion made it into the of­fi­cial Repub­li­can plat­form.

For­mer Colorado con­gress­man Bob Beauprez was among those be­ing con­sid­ered for in­te­rior sec­re­tary. Beauprez, a bi­son rancher and twotime los­ing can­di­date for gover­nor, said in Novem­ber of the job that he would “love to do it if given the op­por­tu­nity.”

Zinke re­cently crit­i­cized an In­te­rior Depart­ment rule aimed at curb­ing in­ad­ver­tent re­leases of meth­ane from oil and gas op­er­a­tions on fed­eral land as “du­plica­tive and un­nec­es­sary.”

“Clean air and clean wa­ter are ab­so­lute top pri­or­i­ties when we talk about re­spon­si­ble en­ergy de­vel­op­ment, how­ever the fi­nal rule is­sued by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion does noth­ing to fur­ther pro­tect our re­sources,” he said in a state­ment. “This rule is a stark re­minder that we need to in­vest in in­fras­truc­ture projects like the Key­stone pipe­line, so we don’t need to flare ex­cess gas.”

Dur­ing his time in Congress, Zinke has es­tab­lished a 3 per­cent vot­ing score with the League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers. But he has bro­ken ranks with the panel’s GOP ma­jor­ity on oc­ca­sion, op­pos­ing a mea­sure by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, that would have al­lowed each state to buy up to 2 mil­lion in U.S. For­est Ser­vice land to boost tim­ber pro­duc­tion.

Land Tawney, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Mon­tana-based Back­coun­try Hunters and An­glers, in an in­ter­view Tues­day de­scribed Zinke as “a straight shooter” who has es­tab­lished cred­i­bil­ity with out­doors en­thu­si­asts in the state.

“He re­ally prides him­self on be­ing a Theodore Roo­sevelt Repub­li­can, and he lives that a lit­tle bit more than other peo­ple,” Tawney said.

Theodore Roo­sevelt Con­ser­va­tion Part­ner­ship Pres­i­dent Whit Fos­burgh, whose hunters and an­glers group has worked with Zinke, said the group would be “very sup­port­ive of Ryan Zinke” as a Cabi­net nom­i­nee.

“He’s shown courage and com­mit­ment to pub­lic lands and con­ser­va­tion, and some­one we think would be an ex­cel­lent sec­re­tary of in­te­rior,” Fos­burgh said.

While some Democrats are likely to op­pose Zinke’s nom­i­na­tion, the pick does pro­vide the party with one bit of good news: It re­moves a pos­si­ble chal­lenger to Sen. Jon Tester, the Mon­tana Demo­crat who likely will face a tough re-elec­tion bid in 2018.

U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., ar­rives at Trump Tower on Mon­day. Kena Be­tan­cur, AFP

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