Trump's Interior pick: Climate change ‘not a hoax’

President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE’s pick to lead the Interior Department says he believes climate change is “not a hoax.”

Breaking with Trump — who famously called climate change a Chinese hoax — Interior Secretary nominee Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) said he believes the climate is changing and that humans have had an impact.

“I think where there’s debate is what that influence is, what we can do about it,” added Zinke.

“I’m not a climate science expert, but I will become much more familiar with it and it will be based on objective science,” Zinke continued, noting the Interior Department’s oversight of the U.S. Geological Survey. 

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Zinke was asked about climate change by Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight MORE (I-Vt.), one of the most aggressive climate hawks in Congress who wasn't completely satisfied with Zinke's answer.
"Actually, there’s not a whole lot of debate now," he said. "The scientific community is almost virtually unanimous that climate change is real and causing devastating problems. There is a debate on this committee, but not within the scientific community."

Democrats have asked several Trump nominees if they agree with the president-elect’s position on climate change.

Trump has said man-made climate change, a phenomenon accepted by the vast majority of scientists, is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese to hurt the United States and added in September that the science behind climate change “needs to be investigated.” 

Climate change also came up in Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing to be secretary of State, due in part to his previous job as CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp. And freshman Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) also asked Trump’s pick for CIA director, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) last week if he believes the science behind climate change. 

Zinke told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday that he supports fossil fuel development on public land, something increasingly opposed by greens worried about the impact on the environment of burning carbon.

“We need an economy and jobs, too," Zinke said. “I’m an all of the above. I will encourage, absolutely, wind and solar.”

Zinke said the federal government has the right to review the federal coal leasing program, despite his deep opposition to the Obama administration’s 2016 decision to halt future public lands leasing while reassessing royalty rates. 

The Interior Department last week concluded the federal government should raise royalty rates on coal mined on public land, though Zinke didn’t say if he would continue that ongoing study.

“I think a review is good,” he said. “I don’t know the specifics of that review, but I think we should always look at our energy portfolio with an objectiveness.”

Zinke broke with many Western Republicans, who believe the federal government owns and controls too much land in the region. 

“I want to be clear on this point,” he said. “I am absolutely against transfer or sale of public land. Couldn’t be any more clear.”