Grijalva backs Bishop over current acting Interior Secretary

Grijalva backs Bishop over current acting Interior Secretary
© Kerren Carrion

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, on Friday said he supports the committee's ranking member Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopDozens of states consider move to permanent daylight saving time Statehood bill could make Puerto Rico a state before 2020 Here's why Congress, not the president, should lead on environmental protection MORE (R-Utah), to be the new Interior Secretary, saying he was better than other candidates because “He doesn't carry the legal baggage or conflicts.”

David Bernhardt is currently serving as acting secretary.

Grijalva says that while he and Bishop don't always see eye to eye, he backs Bishop because he thinks that Bishop is “ethical.”

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“His philosophy and ours obviously don't match up,” Grijalva said to The Hill. “But, I have to put a but in there ... he's ethical. And he doesn't carry the legal baggage or conflicts — the pretty obvious conflicts others have.”

The lawmaker said those conflicts clearly existed in former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeInterior's border surge puts more officers in unfamiliar role Not 'if' but 'when' is the next Deepwater Horizon spill? Former Wyoming GOP lawmaker mulling Senate bid to replace Enzi MORE, who departed the agency Jan. 2 amid multiple ethics investigations, and in Bernhardt.

Bernhardt is a former energy lobbyist. He and Bishop, who chaired the House Natural Resources Committee for the past eight years, are the reported frontrunners to take over for Zinke.

“In that sense, it would be a plus for Interior, to know you're dealing with a philosophical zealot but you're not dealing with somebody who has compromised themselves legally or ethically,” Grijalva said of Bishop.

In his role as chairman, Bishop championed rolling back protections on threatened and endangered species, supported the idea of expanding oil and gas drilling on public land and believed states should have more authority to determine how federal lands were used — all ideas that Grijalva staunchly objected.

Conversely, Bernhardt served for months as Zinke’s number two often taking the lede on crafting administrative rules, including a plan to open up drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Bishop told The Hill on Thursday he had not heard any word from the White House on the secretarial position. He wouldn’t comment on whether he wanted the position.

Grijalva’s comments pointedly addressed Zinke, who remains under investigation by the Interior's Office of Inspector General for two ethics charges related to a real estate deal where he partnered with the then-chairman of oil services company Haliburton, and another instance where he decided against green-lighting a Native American tribe’s plan to build a casino in Connecticut.

The Department of Justice is reportedly investigating Zinke for lying to investigators over one of those cases.

Zinke and Grijalva entered into an online skirmish at the end of last year that resulted in the secretary calling the lawmaker a drunk.

Zinke tweeted that it is “hard” for the Arizona Democrat “to think straight from the bottom of the bottle,” referencing his appearance at a favorite Capitol Hill watering hole. His comments responded to an op-ed posted earlier that day by Grijalva calling for Zinke to step down.

Grijalva has since brushed off the comments from Zinke, choosing instead to focus on what’s ahead for the agency. While he plans to continue to investigate the factors behind some of the more permanent decisions Zinke made while heading Interior, Grijalva said he doesn’t plan on dwelling in the past.

He listed plans to hold hearings on the shrinking of Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments as places for “oversight and potentially legislative corrections.” He also mentioned hearings on climate change and sovereignty issues on Native American territories.

Asked if it might be weird to oversee an agency run by a former colleague if Bishop were to get the secretary role, Grijalva admitted it could be “eerie.”

But he countered, “this is Washington. You just adjust.”

None of it would change his agenda for the committee, he added.

“Him in the role as leading that agency doesn't make it untouchable,” he said.

— Timothy Cama contributed.