Next Interior secretary should get used to scrutiny

Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Interior finalizes plan to open 80 percent of Alaska petroleum reserve to drilling | Justice Department lawyers acknowledge presidential transition in court filing | Trump admin pushes for permits for men who inspired Bundy standoff Trump administration pushes for grazing permits for men who inspired Bundy standoff Interior secretary tests positive for COVID-19 after two days of meetings with officials: report MORE’s ethical scandals cost him his job as Interior secretary, but not before he did tragic damage to America’s public lands, wildlife and our climate.

That damage won’t end with Zinke. Here’s the world’s safest bet: Whoever President TrumpDonald TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News' DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire MORE nominates to lead Interior will keep trying to dismantle environmental protections to the delight of fossil fuel, mining and livestock executives. 


Trump and his administration have shown they don’t value clean water, clean air or imperiled animals. They’re willing to frack over sage-grouse habitat, harm whales with seismic blasting, slash national monuments, silence their own scientists and lock us into a future of one climate-related catastrophe after another.

So, we shouldn’t gamble on the next Interior secretary sharing the American people’s love of public lands, wild rivers and grizzly bears.

But this person would be wise to have a healthy respect for the courts and the power of public outrage. And he or she should expect to be grilled by the House of Representatives frequently over the next two years.

The new secretary should be put under a spotlight the likes of which the Interior Department has never seen. Every move should be scrutinized, and every attempt to harm the environment should be hamstrung.  

One big issue that awaits: Will Interior’s new leadership embrace Zinke’s folly and finalize proposed rules that gut the Endangered Species Act, harming wildlife from the monarch butterfly to the American wolverine?

Other pending decisions would rush drilling and fracking in national forests, decimate protections for greater sage grouse and open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and our oceans to oil extraction, risking deadly spills.

The scrutiny these proposals will likely face is the only silver lining of Zinke’s betrayal of his duties as the chief steward of America’s public lands and waters. His unabashed plundering grabbed our attention. It reminded us how much we have to lose.

By proposing to strip almost 2 million acres from Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments, he created an enormous public backlash that likely saved millions more acres from the chopping block.

By overplaying his hand and rolling back even modest fossil-fuel leasing reforms, Zinke drew a sharply worded injunction from a federal judge in Idaho who took the secretary to task for deliberately cutting the public out of the decision-making process for fracking on public lands.

By putting almost 17 million acres of public land on the auction block for drilling and fracking, Zinke helped spark an offshore drilling ban in Florida and elect a bevy of conservation-minded community members to Congress.

Zinke’s antics shouldn’t obscure another crucial fact. Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt remain. He is a longtime fossil-fuel lobbyist and helped to advance Trump’s pro-polluter agenda.

Given Zinke’s 15 scandals, it’s shocking that Republicans didn’t hold a single oversight hearing on him in two years in either chamber of Congress. Led by Alaska Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiBiden's minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP GOP senators wrestle with purging Trump from party Democratic lawmaker says 'assassination party' hunted for Pelosi during riot MORE and Wyoming Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Georgia keeps Senate agenda in limbo Spending bill aims to reduce emissions, spur energy development MORE, Republicans will continue to turn a blind eye to the damage Zinke and Bernhardt have wrought.


And they’ll rubber-stamp anyone Trump nominates because the GOP is incapable of standing up to the special interests driving the administration’s extreme anti-environmentalism.

And no matter who takes the top job, conservationists will continue to battle destructive initiatives.

Our shared public inheritance — wildlife refuges, national parks, high deserts and grasslands — didn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of careful stewardship.

Together we own an incredible natural legacy that can be easily squandered. Today’s bad decisions will leave scars for generations — they must be stopped.  

In the short term, we must rise above the politics of the moment and fight for public lands, wildlife and the climate. That fight should reflect new polling showing that most Americans, including many Republicans, disagree with Trump’s anti-environmental policies.

In the long term, we need an administration that puts someone in charge of the Interior Department who understands that it must fight climate change — not make it worse

We need someone who will completely erase Zinke’s damaging legacy, protect public lands and turn the tide toward a livable world. 

This isn’t just what conservationists want. It’s what the public demands.

Randi Spivak is the public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, which has brought more than 100 legal challenges to Trump administration policies that harm wildlife and public lands.