Between environmentalists and energy developers, Zinke shot down environmental center

If environmental left means “leave it in the ground,” a chant from the Poland climate talks, and environmental right means dig it and pump it without regard for water and wildlife, Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeInterior reverses decision at heart of Zinke criminal investigation Acting Interior chief moves to protect access to public lands Overnight Energy: Judge halts drilling on Wyoming public lands over climate change | Dems demand details on Interior's offshore drilling plans | Trump mocks wind power MORE’s tenure as Interior Secretary is best characterized as environmental center. Even that, however, made him, and before him Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: EPA moves to raise ethanol levels in gasoline | Dems look to counter White House climate council | Zinke cleared of allegations tied to special election EPA pushes forward plan to increase ethanol mix in gasoline Trump: The solitary executive MORE at EPA, the target of Democrats and their environmental-leftist supporters. Come January that target will become even bigger as Democrats take control of the House.

For the past two years, Zinke and President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate GOP budget ignores Trump, cuts defense Trump says he'll nominate Stephen Moore to Fed White House: ISIS territory in Syria has been 100 percent eliminated MORE have been able to pursue policies that continue to protect the environment and stimulate the economy. They have led the charge for sensible conservation and regulation.

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House Natural Resources Committee member Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and likely incoming committee chair, fired the first volley at Zinke in November accusing him of “unending ethical questions, formal investigations and substantiated claims of attempted nepotism” and threatening more investigations next year. To that Zinke responded, “It’s hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle,” referencing a bar lawmakers frequent. Such comments, typical of the president and his men, fuel the Democratic fires and guarantee that more witch hunts will be forthcoming.

The good news is that Zinke and Pruitt did much to re-center environmental policy in the past two years. Start with the recent Waters of the United States (WOTUS) executive order. After the Obama administration took control of all the nation’s waters by executive order, the Trump administration returned us to what the Clean Water Act of 1972 intended, namely federal control of navigable waters such as the Mississippi River or the Columbia River. States have protected and will continue to protect the potholes, small creeks, and wetlands as federalism dictates.

In the case of Interior, a recent report on the first two years shows both conservation and economic gains including:

  • proposed creating the Public Lands Infrastructure Fund to help overcome the $12 billion infrastructure backlog (roads, bridges, sewers) in national parks
  • initiated regulatory relief saving $6 billion
  • set a second straight year revenue growth from energy production on federal and American Indian lands and offshore areas
  • grossed $1 billion from one oil and gas lease in New Mexico, more than all federal onshore leases in 2017 combined
  • reduced the grossly oversized Obama and Clinton national monuments and returned them to multiple use management
  • worked with Indian tribes to curb drug dependency and to project against abuse of women and children

Most recently, Interior announced that an auction of offshore wind generation sites — renewable energy — brought in $405 million.

To all of this environmentalists howl that the administration is riding roughshod over the environment. Despite environmentalist criticism calling the WOTUS re-centering a dangerous new precedent, congressmen and senators from both sides of the isle applauded the return to state control of their waters.

During Zinke’s tenure, Interior gave states more authority over sage grouse recovery, again applauded by both Democratic and Republican congressmen and governors. Although accused of threatening access for hunting, fishing, hiking, and other outdoor recreation, under Zinke, Interior increased hunting and fishing access on more than 5 million acres of federally-owned land.

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Trump, Pruitt and Zinke may all lack political savvy when dealing with the press and social media, but they all were doing what most Americans want — protecting the environment and strengthening the economy. Not surprisingly, environmentalists — who have had their way in Washington imposing regulations and locking federal land from public access — are hoping the new Congress will turn the environmental tide back to the left. Hopefully, the remaining administrative ranks at EPA and Interior are staffed by savvier people who will continue undoing senseless regulations, stimulating the economy and carrying on our nation’s conservative conservation heritage.

Terry Anderson is the John and Jean DeNault Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and past president of the Property and Environment Research Center based in Bozeman, Montana.