In­te­rior Sec­re­tary

In Se­nate tes­ti­mony, Zinke cites a dearth of ex­tractable re­sources

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY DARRYL FEARS darryl.fears@wash­

Ryan Zinke voiced doubt that oil and gas ex­plo­ration will oc­cur off the Pa­cific coast as part of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan to ex­pand off­shore drilling.

In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke ex­pressed doubt Tues­day that oil and gas ex­plo­ration will hap­pen off the Pa­cific coast as part of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posal to dra­mat­i­cally ex­pand off­shore leas­ing, say­ing Cal­i­for­nia, Ore­gon and Washington have “no known re­sources of any weight” for en­ergy com­pa­nies to ex­tract.

Dis­cussing the At­lantic coast while tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore the Se­nate En­ergy Com­mit­tee, the sec­re­tary sim­i­larly de­scribed Maine as a state with lit­tle re­cov­er­able oil and gas.

Zinke stopped short of say­ing that the three Pa­cific states would be ex­empted from the pres­i­dent’s plan to of­fer leases on 95 per­cent of the outer con­ti­nen­tal shelf. But in his re­ply to a ques­tion from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), he ac­knowl­edged her state’s deep op­po­si­tion.

“I think I’m go­ing to mark down Washington as op­posed to drilling,” Zinke said af­ter Cantwell asked him to ex­tend the pub­lic com­ment pe­riod for the drilling pro­posal. It is clear “the state of Washington is deeply, pas­sion­ately op­posed to oil and gas drilling off the coast,” he con­tin­ued, promis­ing that will be re­flected in the next draft of the plan.

Cal­i­for­nia and Ore­gon also are strongly against drilling off their shores, as are vir­tu­ally all states along the At­lantic coast.

The sec­re­tary’s com­ments came near the end of a two-hour hear­ing on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fis­cal 2019 bud­get and its ef­fect on the In­te­rior Depart­ment. The pres­i­dent has pro­posed a cut of $2 bil­lion to the depart­ment’s nearly $13.5 bil­lion bud­get.

Among the bud­get’s high­lights, Zinke said, is a pro­posal to use rev­enue from new en­ergy pro­duc­tion projects for an in­fra­struc­ture fund to deal with the Na­tional Park Ser­vice’s nearly $12 bil­lion main­te­nance back­log.

Zinke was warmly re­ceived by Repub­li­cans on the com­mit­tee, start­ing with Chair­man Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who wel­comed his ef­forts to open the Arc­tic Ocean to leases and ex­plo­ration. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) con­grat­u­lated the sec­re­tary for shrink­ing two na­tional mon­u­ments in his state, Grand Stair­case-Es­calante and Bears Ears.

“You and I have worked closely to chart a path to greater en­ergy se­cu­rity, which, as you have noted, runs right through Alaska,” Murkowski said in her open­ing state­ment. “So I’d like to thank you for all that you’ve done to help Alaska and the na­tion this past year.”

But Democrats ripped into Zinke, de­rid­ing his spend­ing for travel on mil­i­tary planes and pri­vate air­craft while propos­ing to raise en­trance fees at the most pop­u­lar na­tional parks, vir­tu­ally elim­i­nat­ing the Land and Wa­ter Con­ser­va­tion Fund, shrink­ing sev­eral na­tional mon­u­ments and risk­ing beach economies with drilling ex­pan­sion.

“Dur­ing your con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing, you men­tioned Teddy Roo­sevelt nine times,” re­called Sen. Ron Wy­den (D-Ore.). “Teddy Roo­sevelt un­der­stood that when you sell off or ex­ploit pub­lic lands, you don’t get them back. Mr. Sec­re­tary, you don’t seem to un­der­stand that at all.”

Zinke fired back that the land carved away from the mon­u­ments is still un­der var­i­ous fed­eral pro­tec­tions, as wilder­ness ar­eas, for ex­am­ple.

Wy­den wasn’t swayed. “We talked a lot dur­ing your nom­i­na­tion process,” the sen­a­tor said. “I said I would sup­port your nom­i­na­tion, and I did. I will tell you right now, as of to­day, it is one of the big­gest re­grets in my pub­lic ser­vice.”

Although bud­get cuts tar­geted for sev­eral In­te­rior Depart­ment pro­grams also came up in ques­tions, off­shore drilling took cen­ter stage. In an­other brief but heated ex­change, Sen. Cather­ine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) asked Zinke why re­new­able-en­ergy projects are the only ones be­ing cut when he has said he sup­ports an all-of-the-above en­ergy strat­egy.

Zinke re­sponded that so­lar en­ergy re­quires hun­dreds of thou­sands of acres of land that lock out po­ten­tial hunt­ing and other uses and that wind “chops up birds.”

Cortez Masto then pressed him on why he doesn’t have sim­i­lar reser­va­tions about off­shore drilling ex­plo­ration, given its risk and cost. “Didn’t I just hear you say off­shore has a low de­mand?” she asked.

Zinke has ex­empted only Florida from the drilling pro­posal, say­ing the risk to beach tourism rev­enue driv­ing the state’s econ­omy is too great. He re­peated that Florida also has a fed­eral mora­to­rium against oil and gas ex­plo­ration that pro­tects its coast un­til 2024.

That hasn’t sat­is­fied a bi­par­ti­san group of gover­nors, law­mak­ers and at­tor­neys gen­eral of At­lantic-and Pa­cific-coast states who are firmly op­posed to po­ten­tial drilling and the seis­mic test­ing that would pre­cede it. Such test­ing, some stud­ies say, harms mam­mals that rely on echolo­ca­tion to as­so­ciate and feed and could frighten away fish that com­mer­cial and recreation fish­eries need to sur­vive.


In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke con­fers with Deputy As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary Olivia Bar­ton Fer­riter dur­ing his tes­ti­mony Tues­day.

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