Senate committee approves Zinke to lead Interior

Senate committee approves Zinke to lead Interior
© Greg Nash

A Senate committee on Tuesday advanced Ryan Zinke’s nomination to be President Trump’s secretary of Interior. 

Zinke’s nomination was approved 16-6 by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and will move to the full Senate next. Four Democrats joined every Republican in backing Zinke, and one, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenLobbying World Overnight Regulation: House to vote on repealing joint-employer rule | EPA won't say which areas don't meet Obama smog rule | Lawmakers urge regulators to reject Perry plan New tax plan will hinder care for older Americans MORE (D-Ore.), abstained from the vote.

Republicans have broadly supported Zinke, a Republican who represents Montana in the House and who has relatively moderate positions on public lands issues. He supports federal land ownership, a stance out of step with many conservatives in the West, and in his confirmation hearing earlier this month he said he would support conservation efforts at Interior. 

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“I want to be clear on this point: I am absolutely against transfer or sale of public land. I can’t be any more clear,” Zinke said at his confirmation hearing.

He supports expanded energy development on federal land, including coal mining, something most Democrats resist. During his hearing, members prodded Zinke on his views of climate science: He said he believes the climate is changing but that efforts to combat that need to balance energy industry jobs as well.

"We need an economy and jobs too," he said. "And in my experience of probably seeing 63 different countries, I’ve seen what happens when you don’t have regulations.”

Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellDemocrats oppose effort to delay or repeal Interior methane rule Senators spar over proposal to drill in Alaska wildlife refuge Fake quorum calls are an excuse for the Senate's inaction MORE (D-Wash.), who voted against Zinke, said Tuesday she is concerned about how the Trump administration will approach federal lands. 

"The Trump administration has made it clear it wants to pursue an aggressive energy development agenda undoing reasonable protections on environmentally sensitive lands and waters," she said.

"I hope that this conversation about how we provide good stewardship will continue. I know you want to be a Teddy Roosevelt kind of secretary of Interior, but right now you’re working with an administration who, in their own infrastructure bill, say they’re going to pay for it by oil and gas on federal lands. I don’t know where that stops." 

The bipartisan committee vote — and Democrats’ focus on other nominees — means Zinke likely will have enough support to win confirmation when his nomination goes to the Senate floor. 

Updated at 10:22 a.m.