In­te­rior sec­re­tary’s sched­ule shows a bevy of meet­ings with var­i­ous groups

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY JULIET EILPERIN juliet.eilperin@wash­

In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke spent much of his first two months in of­fice meet­ing with en­ergy and other in­dus­try groups, ac­cord­ing to per­sonal sched­ules re­leased last week un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act.

The sched­ules, which cover March and April, de­tail a slew of meet­ings with oil and gas pro­duc­ers as well as of­fi­cials rep­re­sent­ing gun own­ers, marine in­dus­tries, au­to­mo­bile deal­ers and builders. Zinke, who was con­firmed by the Se­nate on March 1, also met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Navajo Na­tion and Mon­tana’s Lit­tle Shell Tribe, as well as nu­mer­ous law­mak­ers and of­fi­cials from a range of states and U.S. ter­ri­to­ries.

Zinke held more than a half­dozen meet­ings with ex­ec­u­tives from nearly two dozen oil and gas firms dur­ing the pe­riod, in­clud­ing BP Amer­ica, Chevron and ExxonMo­bil. He also spent time with the Amer­i­can Petroleum In­sti­tute, the West­ern En­ergy Al­liance and Con­ti­nen­tal Re­sources chief ex­ec­u­tive Harold Hamm. Sev­eral of these dis­cus­sions cov­ered ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions the ad­min­is­tra­tion would later take in an ef­fort to re­verse former pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s poli­cies, such as lim­its on drilling off Amer­ica’s coasts and the vent­ing of meth­ane from drilling op­er­a­tions on fed­eral and tribal land.

Politico first re­ported de­tails of Zinke’s cal­en­dar.

Jack Ger­ard, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of API, said in a state­ment that “In­te­rior is a crit­i­cal agency for the nat­u­ral gas and oil in­dus­try, re­gard­less of who is in of­fice.” As for Zinke, Ger­ard added, he “has been open to con­struc­tive di­a­logue and has shown a will­ing­ness to work with all stake­hold­ers.”

The Mon­tanan in­vited the Na­tional Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion to his of­fice on his first day, ac­cord­ing to his spokes­woman Heather Swift, and he has since met with of­fi­cials from the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy, the Out­door In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion and with the pres­i­dent of the Congress-char­tered Na­tional Fish and Wildlife Foun­da­tion.

But Sierra Club ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Michael Brune crit­i­cizes the sec­re­tary for not pay­ing more at­ten­tion to con­ser­va­tion groups. “Zinke’s sched­ule makes it ob­vi­ous that he would rather meet with big oil com­pa­nies like Chevron, BP, and ExxonMo­bil who want to drill our pre­cious pub­lic lands than the tribes and com­mu­ni­ties who want to pro­tect them,” Brune said in a state­ment. “Zinke claims to want to walk in Teddy Roo­sevelt’s shoes, but Roo­sevelt would be stunned by Zinke’s ob­vi­ous agenda of try­ing to sell out our nat­u­ral legacy.”

Tom Cors sees it dif­fer­ently. The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy’s pub­lic lands di­rec­tor for U.S. gov­ern­ment re­la­tions says Zinke “is try­ing to live up to” be­ing a Teddy Roo­sevelt Repub­li­can. In April, Cors and other con­ser­vancy of­fi­cials gave him a tour of Santa Cruz Is­land, the part of the Chan­nel Is­lands Na­tional Park in Cal­i­for­nia that they have helped re­store. This month they showed him a sec­tion of the Bears Ears Na­tional Mon­u­ment in Utah — which the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­sid­er­ing shrink­ing or re­scind­ing — that the or­ga­ni­za­tion owns.

The sec­re­tary’s itin­er­ary on that trip to Utah sparked controversy. Lo­cal tribal of­fi­cials, who view Bears Ears as sa­cred ground and want its mon­u­ment sta­tus pre­served, com­plained that they had only an hour with him af­ter months of unan­swered re­quests. Even be­fore his trav­els, Zinke had met in his of­fice with Utah Gov. Gary R. Her­bert (R) and mem­bers of the state’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion, who want the mon­u­ment re­scinded.

Zinke’s sched­ules show he hosted Navajo Na­tion Pres­i­dent Rus­sell Be­gaye and the chief of staff for Ari­zona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) in early April. It’s un­clear if their con­ver­sa­tion fo­cused on the fu­ture of the Navajo Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tion, a huge coal plant fac­ing clo­sure by its own­ers.

Also on the sched­ules were Zinke’s mul­ti­ple meet­ings with Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing an April 5 ses­sion in his of­fice with NRA In­sti­tute for Leg­isla­tive Ac­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Chris W. Cox. Zinke then flew to At­lanta on April 28 to de­liver an ad­dress at the group’s convention.

His cal­en­dar since tak­ing of­fice gives a sense of how former of­fi­cials in the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­vided in­put dur­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s early days.

In late March, Zinke got to­gether with Ran­dall Luthi, who used to di­rect In­te­rior’s Min­er­als Man­age­ment Ser­vice and now heads the Na­tional Ocean In­dus­tries As­so­ci­a­tion, for a “per­son­nel meet­ing,” ac­cord­ing to his sched­ule. The next month he spoke to NOIA’s con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton.

And on April 5, the sec­re­tary spoke by phone with former vice pres­i­dent Richard B. Cheney.

Kate Kelly, pub­lic lands di­rec­tor for the lib­eral think tank Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, sug­gested in an email that “Zinke’s sched­ule raises a lot of ques­tions.”

“We know more about how he spends his time from his Twit­ter feed than we do from these sched­ules,” she said, not­ing that one showed a week in Cal­i­for­nia — where he has a home — with­out any de­tails about whom he met with “or how he used tax­payer dol­lars.” By con­trast, Zinke’s tweets re­veal that he met with Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and In­te­rior em­ploy­ees. “Why not be trans­par­ent about that?” Kelly asked. More at wash­ing­ton­ news/en­ergy-en­vi­ron­ment


In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke, left, hikes along the But­ler Wash In­dian Ruin trail with Utah Gov. Gary R. Her­bert (R) on May 8.

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