In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Zinke must re­sign

He’s em­broiled in ethics and man­age­ment fail­ures

USA TODAY International Edition - - OPINION - Raúl M. Gri­jalva Rep. Raúl M. Gri­jalva, D-Ariz., is rank­ing mem­ber of the House Com­mit­tee on Nat­u­ral Re­sources.

Ryan Zinke needs to re­sign im­me­di­ately as sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior.

I have re­sisted call­ing for this step even as ques­tions have grown about Mr. Zinke’s eth­i­cal and man­age­rial fail­ings. Un­for­tu­nately, his con­duct in office and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ne­glect in set­ting eth­i­cal stan­dards for his own Cab­i­net have made it un­avoid­able.

Mr. Zinke has never even tried to of­fer an ex­pla­na­tion for the sheer scope of his well-doc­u­mented scan­dals. This si­lence is in­sult­ing to the Amer­i­can peo­ple, and un­sus­tain­able given the Nov. 6 elec­tion re­sults. Mr. Zinke holds his job as a pub­lic trust, not a step­ping stone to his per­sonal am­bi­tions. He has abused that trust and dam­aged the In­te­rior Depart­ment. The least he can do is step down and give his suc­ces­sor a chance to be­gin rev­ers­ing that dam­age.

It’s worth re­count­ing how far that abuse went on Repub­li­cans’ watch. As has been widely re­ported, an In­te­rior Depart­ment in­spec­tor gen­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Mr. Zinke — one of at least 17 pub­licly known for­mal probes of ei­ther him or his depart­ment — was re­cently re­ferred to the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

The focus is a land devel­op­ment pro­ject called 95 Kar­row in Mr. Zinke’s home­town of Whitefish, Mon­tana, in­volv­ing David Le­sar, the chair­man of oil con­trac­tor Hal­libur­ton; his son John; and a Mon­tana prop­erty de­vel­oper named Casey Malmquist. The pro­posal would in­crease the value of land con­trolled by Mr. Zinke’s fam­ily.

I am the rank­ing mem­ber of the House Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee, which over­sees the In­te­rior Depart­ment, and ear­lier this year I asked my staff to look into this re­la­tion­ship. They dis­cov­ered that Mr. Zinke met with all three men on Aug. 3, 2017, in his office, then led them on a pri­vate tour of the Lin­coln Me­mo­rial. Mr. Zinke’s pub­lic cal­en­dar does not in­clude the at­ten­dees of the meet­ing or of the Lin­coln tour — we know be­cause Mr. Zinke’s sched­uler men­tioned it in a per­sonal email.

When three of us on the com­mit­tee pub­li­cized that find­ing in our call for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of 95 Kar­row, we had no idea where the facts would lead. It is Mr. Zinke’s fault that the Jus­tice Depart­ment was alerted, not the fault of the news me­dia or any­one else his office has cho­sen to blame.

Beyond his per­sonal foibles, Mr. Zinke has over­seen the degra­da­tion of In­te­rior’s se­nior work­force; an­nounced plans to cut thou­sands of per­ma­nent po­si­tions; prompted mass res­ig­na­tions from a non­par­ti­san Na­tional Park Ser­vice ad­vi­sory board; and tied em­ploy­ees and aides in knots to make him­self and his wife finan­cially com­fort­able. These are not the hall­marks of an effec­tive leader.

His pol­icy di­rec­tion at In­te­rior is equally un­for­tu­nate. He has over­seen the dumb­ing down of sci­ence, of­ten with a par­ti­san edge. Rather than ad­vanc­ing their agen­cies’ mul­ti­ple-use mis­sion for pub­lic lands, many on staff spend their days re­lax­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal and per­mit­ting stan­dards for fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies. They are forced to re­move men­tions of hu­mans’ cli­mate change im­pacts from official re­ports.

They are in­structed, above all, to make Pres­i­dent Trump’s “en­ergy dom­i­nance” agenda the sole guid­ing prin­ci­ple of en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy. That’s even though its give­aways are so ex­treme that the pres­i­dent of the pro-in­dus­try West­ern En­ergy Al­liance once said they ex­ceeded even her fun­ders’ wildest ex­pec­ta­tions.

I have sent dozens of unan­swered let­ters seek­ing in­for­ma­tion about In­te­rior Depart­ment poli­cies and Mr. Zinke’s con­duct. Should I chair the com­mit­tee in Jan­uary, as I hope to do, those ques­tions will only in­ten­sify as part of our le­git­i­mate over­sight du­ties.

The Amer­i­can peo­ple need an In­te­rior Depart­ment fo­cused on ad­dress­ing cli­mate change, en­hanc­ing pub­lic recre­ation, pro­tect­ing en­dan­gered species, and up­hold­ing the sovereign rights of Na­tive Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties. These are not mat­ters of per­sonal pref­er­ence — they are en­shrined in law and sup­ported by vot­ers. The depart­ment needs some­one ac­count­able at the helm who be­lieves in this mis­sion.

Mr. Zinke is not that per­son. Fed­eral agen­cies can­not func­tion with­out cred­i­ble lead­er­ship, and he offers none. He needs to re­sign.

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