Zinke threatens Russian oil — Russia threatens war
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke made an audacious claim at an energy conference last week in regards to Russia, claiming “The United States has that ability, with our Navy, to make sure the sea lanes are open, and, if necessary, to blockade … to make sure that their energy does not go to market.”
What does the secretary of the Interior have to do with foreign policy? Well, nothing.
The law that established the Department of Interior gives the secretary widespread authority of major areas, like the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.
So then why is Zinke publicly discussing U.S. maritime strategy and possible naval deployments against an adversary like Russia?
It’s completely unclear. While we don’t know why Zinke was making this reckless comment, we do know that his words have an impact. At least one senior Russian official has decried Zinke’s proposal as a potential declaration of war.
Earlier this week I wrote to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer requesting information about the scope of Zinke’s portfolio as it relates to the Navy and Department of Defense — if such a portfolio even exists.
While we have yet to hear from the Defense Department, we know that Zinke is the most scandal-plagued member of the Trump administration. Naval policy aside, he has created numerous crises on issues that are actually his responsiblity.
Just this week, the beloved public lands, access and parks program, Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), expired on his watch, which could lead to the loss of thousands of public land projects across America. He is also allowing millions of acres of critical wildlife habitat to be leased for oil and gas development in a lease sale process that a judge recently ruled did not include the public.
Zinke’s Interior Department has also become a morass of ethical problems, including staff members jumping ship for lucrative oil and gas industry jobs, potentially violating an executive order on ethics. All this while Zinke mysteriously disappeared to Turkey on a two-week vacation.
He also essentially gutted a commonsense methane waste prevention rule, costing taxpayers and local governments an estimated $800 million in lost royalties over the next decade in the process.
Zinke should focus on getting his own house in order before interfering further in geopolitical disputes.
Later this week, Zinke will appear at an event with Navy Secretary Spencer in Boston. We hope he uses this opportunity to clarify his role on naval policy and renew his commitment to actually doing the job he was appointed to do.
Chris Saeger is the executive director of the Western Values Project, a Montana-based watchdog group taking a government accountability approach to public lands issues.
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