Trump taps Montana congressman for Interior secretary

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President-elect Donald Trump is planning to name Montana’s Rep. Ryan Zinke (R) to lead the Interior Department.

Zinke was offered the Interior secretary position Tuesday, a source close to Trump’s transition efforts confirmed to The Hill. A transition official told CNN that Zinke had accepted the offer.

Zinke’s office and Trump’s transition team did not return requests for comment. On Twitter, a spokeswoman in Zinke’s congressional office retweeted an early report on his selection for the post.

If the Senate confirms him, Zinke would be in charge of a department with some 70,000 employees and a wide range of responsibilities, from managing huge swaths of federal land in the West to enforcing treaties with American Indian tribes and studying the nation’s geography. He would replace Sally Jewell, who has been President Obama’s Interior secretary since 2013.

The Montana Republican was an early Trump supporter, endorsing the businessman in May.

Zinke, a freshman lawmaker, has been a critic of numerous Obama administration environmental initiatives, including a moratorium on new leases for coal mining on federal land that accompanied a review of the coal leasing program. Montana is among the leading states for coal mining on public lands.

He has slammed the Obama administration’s policies cracking down on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and oil and gas wells, and has pushed for Indian tribes to get more leeway in how they permit drilling on their land.

An avid hunter and fisherman, Zinke bucks many of his GOP colleagues in his strong support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that uses fees from offshore oil and gas drilling to improve parks and public recreation.

He resigned his position in the committee writing the GOP platform earlier this year due to a provision in the platform advocating for transferring federal land to states.

Zinke sits on the House Natural Resources Committee. The League of Conservation Voters gives him a 3 percent on its scorecard, which is meant to measure lawmakers’ environmental friendliness.

The lawmaker has said he has doubts about humans’ impact on climate change. 
“The evidence strongly suggests that humans have had an influence on higher CO2,” Zinke said during his 2013 campaign, the Missoulian reported then. “However, the evidence is equally as strong that there are other factors, such as rising ocean temperatures, that have a greater influence.”

Trump has vowed to change course at the Interior Department.

Like Zinke, he opposes the Obama administration’s moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands. In a September speech, Trump said he would undertake a “top-down review of all anti-coal regulations issued by the Obama administration.”  

Trump’s transition website said he “will encourage the production of [fossil fuels] by opening onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters.”

The president-elect holds a view of federal land ownership that is relatively moderate compared to some conservatives.

In a speech last week, Trump said he would follow Theodore Roosevelt’s lead and and “conserve and protect our beautiful natural resources for the next generation including protecting lands.”

During his presidential campaign, Trump also said he “[doesn’t] like the idea” of transferring federal lands to states because “I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold.”

Tuesday’s news comes days after sources floated Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) as Trump’s pick to lead Interior.

McMorris Rodgers never received an offer from Trump or the transition team, a GOP source said Tuesday. She has not spoken to Trump about the position, either.

“It was an honor to be invited to spend time with the President-elect, and I’m energized more than ever to continue leading in Congress as we think big, reimagine this government, and put people back at the center of it,” McMorris Rodgers wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday.

Zinke, a Navy SEAL for 23 years before retiring in 2008, met his wife, Lola, while he was an officer. He studied geology while also playing football at the University of Oregon, and his political career includes a failed run for Lieutenant Governor in Montana in 2012.

If the Senate confirms Zinke’s nomination, the decision will have an impact on the race for the Senate in 2018. 

Zinke is seen as a top potential challenger to Montana Sen. Jon Tester, a two-term Democrat who is facing a reelection campaign in a state that went for Trump in November. While Montana will likely remain a top target for the GOP, Zinke was considered the party’s leading candidate to to be the nominee there. 
Democrats are defending Senate seats in 10 states carried by Trump. The party will fight to hold a total of 25 seats, which includes two seats held by independents who caucus with Democrats.
Zinke’s confirmation as secretary would also mean a special election to fill his House seat. A Democrat hasn’t held that seat since 1997, but between Tester and Gov.-elect Steve Bullock, Montana has two statewide elected Democrats.
If confirmed, Zinke’s time at the helm of Interior would continue the trend of a western state natives running the department, a tradition linked to land ownership West of the Mississippi River. 
—Scott Wong and Lisa Hagen contributed 
Updated: 6:21 p.m.
Tags Cathy McMorris Rodgers Donald Trump Jon Tester Sally Jewell

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