Energy & Environment

Senate confirms Zinke to lead Interior


The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) to be President Trump’s secretary of Interior.

The final vote tally was 68-31, with 16 Democrats joining all Republicans to support Zinke. He needed a simple majority to be approved.

The former Navy SEAL will now lead the 70,000-employee department with a wide range of responsibilities, from overseeing wide swaths of federal land to supervising offshore drilling and managing the government’s relationships with American Indian tribes.

Zinke will also be responsible for implementing President Trump’s policies at Interior, like a dramatic increase in fossil fuel development on federal land and a rollback of many of former President Obama’s climate change policies.

{mosads}Trump is expected soon to issue an executive order repealing the Obama administration’s moratorium on new federal land leases for coal mining. Zinke is responsible for those leases, and has come out strongly against Obama’s moratorium.

The incoming secretary had an easy confirmation process relative to some of Trump’s other cabinet nominees, owing in part to his moderate stance on many policy questions at Interior.

At his confirmation hearing, Zinke endorsed long-held Republican policies like allowing more oil and natural gas drilling. But he also came out strongly in favor of conservation priorities that Democrats hold dear, and promised to oppose large-scale transfers of federal land to state or private interests.

That earned him the support of some major conservation groups that usually align with Democrats, like the National Wildlife Federation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

Still, major environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace opposed him, citing in large part his goals to increase drilling and mining.

Zinke told senators that he believes climate change is happening and humans contribute, but he isn’t sure of the extent of the human impact.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Zinke understands the importance of conservation, multiple uses of federal land, energy development and the unique needs of westerns states that overwhelmingly host federal land.

“He was born in the West. He lives in the West. He understands it. He understands its people,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor.

“He’s also shown that he understands the needs for the department to be a partner and to be a partner for Alaska and our western states, which, again, contain the vast majority of our federal lands,” she continued.

“I believe that Rep. Zinke is an excellent choice to be our next secretary of the Interior.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the Energy Committee’s top Democrat, applauded Zinke and welcomed much of what he told the panel.

But she said Trump’s policy plans for Interior — like increase fossil fuel development and rolling back land protections — would be disastrous, and Cantwell said Zinke showed no desire to push back against those.

“I’m not convinced that Congressman Zinke will be able to moderate the Trump administration’s extreme views on exploiting our public lands and i’m not sure you he will be able to stand up to the president and protect the public interest that is required on our public lands and manage for the benefit of all Americans, not just the oil and gas and mining companies and their commercial interests,” she said.

“We need an Interior secretary capable of standing up to the president to make preserving our public lands a priority, but during my meeting with nominee Zinke, his confirmation hearings and before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on which I sit and his record as a member of congress, I did not receive the assurances and commitments I needed to support his confirmation as Interior secretary.”

Zinke, who the GOP had eyed to run for the Senate next year against Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) before his cabinet nomination, plans to resign from his House seat before he is sworn in.

Fifteen Democrats joined Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and all of the Republicans in voting for Zinke: Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Chris Coons (Del.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Tom Udall (N.M.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.).

– Updated at 11:15 a.m.

Tags Angus King Bill Nelson Chris Coons Chris Murphy Claire McCaskill Heidi Heitkamp Joe Donnelly Joe Manchin Jon Tester Lisa Murkowski Maria Cantwell Mark Warner Martin Heinrich Ron Wyden Sherrod Brown Tim Kaine Tom Udall
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