The Senate confirmed former congressman Ryan Zinke as Interior secretary yesterday (March 1) morning with a 68-31 vote. He’ll now be responsible for U.S. public lands, Indian affairs, national parks and energy development, including permits for offshore wind.
What does his appointment mean for those sectors?
The now-secretary served in the Navy SEALs* for 23 years and headed to Congress in 2008—first as a Montana senator, then to the House in 2014. His track record shows what we may expect in his new position in the Trump administration.
He believes in man-made climate change.
Senator Bernie Sanders posed a straightforward question to Zinke during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on January 17: Is climate change is a hoax, as the president has stated on Twitter? Zinke answered no, which many heard as reassuring given that a lot of the current administration is critical of climate change and of whether humans have caused it.
“Climate is changing,” Zinke said. “Man has influence. I think where there’s debate on it is what that influence is and what can we do about it.”
He is not interested in curbing fossil fuel development.
While Zinke did say that he would support wind and solar, he emphasized the importance of the “economy and jobs,” going on to say that he’s about “all-the-above energy.”
During his time in Montana, the then-congressman supported the coal industry and even voiced opposition to the Lummi Nation’s win in shutting down the Gateway Pacific Terminal in Washington state in May 2016. Now, some speculate that as secretary, Zinke could revive the $600 million facility.
Partial reason for his opposition stemmed from his relationship with Montana’s Crow tribe, which would have used the terminal to export its coal.
“The Crow need and deserve for this project to go through; and frankly, there’s no reason it shouldn’t have been approved in a timely, transparent and fair manner,” Zinke wrote in a statement. “While I’m disappointed to see the project further delayed, I support the Crow and their partners doing what will best ensure fair treatment and lead to completion of the project.”
He has seemingly aligned himself with Native peoples.
This is clear in his alliance with the Crow tribe, but there are other examples. Native columnist Clara Caufield wrote for Native Sun News Today in January applauding Zinke’s work with the Crow tribe in Montana.
She goes on to write:
Long story short, as a Congressman, Zinke became personally acquainted with the Tribes and tribal issues in Montana and thus is already a step ahead of the game, especially for many matters affecting Tribes in the Great Plains region. Of course, we may not find ourselves agreeing with every policy or decision of this Administration, but at least with Zinke, we should have access, not having to start from scratch when discussing our issues and needs.
Zinke was also clear during his confirmation hearing that he believes in sovereignty for Native peoples: “Sovereignty should mean something. When we say a Nation is sovereign, it should have weight.”
He touched on the lack of healthcare in Indian country and said he will address that issue as secretary. Still, his track record for tribes nationwide, especially those who are opposed to fossil fuel development, remains to be seen.
* This post has been updated to correct that Zinke wasn’t a commander for 23 years, but he did serve in the Navy SEALS for 23 years.