Four things that make Trump’s new Interior Secretary bad for public lands and New Mexico

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After weeks of speculation over which pro-fossil fuel leader Trump would place in charge of our national parks, public lands and oil/gas/coal resources, the President-elect today named Montana’s Congressman Ryan Zinke his Secretary-designate of the US Dept. of Interior.

Who is he and what does that mean for our country and New Mexico?  Here’s a quick primer:

Cong. Ryan Zinke (R-MT)

Zinke’s homestate newspaper, The Billings Gazette, has said that Congressman Zinke’s efforts are clearly intended to “rob Montanans (and all citizens) of money that’s rightfully theirs.”

After first campaigning on support for President Obama’s climate action plans, he suddenly became a science denier. Not coincidentally, he took in almost $350,000 in campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry since his overnight change.

Environmental groups and local Montana voters who know his record were using today to question whether his flip-flop on the science of climate change will raise questions about which of his other positions – such as his promise not to sell off parks and public lands – can be sold to the highest bidder.


Fossil Fuels and Resource Management

Loopholes for his coal company contributors: Congressman Zinke has tried to enable Cloud Peak and other coal companies that donate to his campaign to sell coal to their subsidiaries at artificially depressed prices. This self-dealing loophole has allowed the coal industry to fleece state and national taxpayers of millions of dollars of royalty payments that could be used to pay for schools, roads, and firefighters.


Flip-flop on climate change after running for Congress: In 2010, then-state senator Zinke signed a letter of 1,200 state legislators calling on President Obama and the Congress to pass legislation on clean energy and climate change. Running for Congress in 2014, Congressman Zinke flipped his position, challenging the scientific consensus behind climate change.  Since 2014, Zinke has taken at least $345,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry


Public Lands Preservation

Disavowing his support for selling public lands to balance the budget: As Montana’s sole Congressman, Zinke represents a lot of areas of public lands, including the impressive Glacier National Park.  That should give him an appreciation for conservation, but it didn’t.

After undergoing withering criticism in Montana for voting for Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget, which proposed a massive sell-off of public lands and national forests, Congressman Zinke changed his public position and now claims to oppose the transfer or sale of public lands.


Zinke was criticized for implying that he killed Osama bin Laden as a Navy SEAL. He didn’t. According to news reports covering his campaign for Congress, Zinke “was once widely criticized in Montana’s press for fundraising emails that suggested he played a role in the killing of Osama bin Laden. Zinke had retired from the military three years before the Abbottabad raid.”  The Department of Defense also had to tell him to stop using the SEAL insignia on his campaign materials.

Native Tribes and Lands

The US Dept. of Interior oversees our country’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, making the Sec. of Interior one of New Mexico’s most important federal allies.

But back home in Montana where Zinke represents 8 different tribes and nations, Native Americans have been vocal about his anti-Native positions.

Like Trump, Zinke has been charged with using racial stereotypes, something the presumptive GOP nominee routinely dismisses as “political correctness.” Zinke told Republicans in Helena that “nowhere” is “the dependence on the government more apparent” than on Indian reservations. “You go back to, you want to feed someone, you need to teach a person how to fish,” Trump’s possible VP said in summary of his solution to poverty on reservations in Montana. The state’s Democratic Party charged that Zinke’s comments “belittle” Native Americans. “We want a Congressman who will stand up for our culture and values; who will fight for our sovereignty,” retorted James Steele Jr., President of the Montana Indian Democrats Council. “Zinke will continue siding with corporate special interests instead of tribal communities,” he forecast.

“Saying you care about Native issues, the environment, climate change, and the delisting and trophy hunting of grizzly bears, but that you still intend to vote for Trump, is akin to saying that you oppose the death penalty, but advocate for the electric chair,” concludes GOAL’s Co-Founder, R. Bear Stands Last.–

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