Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) has been asked to be Secretary of the Interior, according to Politico.
The nomination comes on the heels of massive outcry over the incoming Trump administration’s rumored pick of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who has introduced legislation to sell off public lands.
Zinke has called himself a Teddy Roosevelt conservationist and has said that “selling off our public lands is a non-starter.” But in June he still voted for a bill that would have transferred 4 million acres of public lands to states.
Zinke is also yet another climate denier to be named to Trump’s cabinet — although he has been considerably more circumspect than some other members of Congress, or the president-elect for that matter.
“It’s not a hoax, but it’s not proven science either,” Zinke has said. “But you don’t dismantle America’s power and energy on a maybe. We need to be energy independent first. We need to do it better, which we can, but it is not a settled science.”
Zinke’s nomination could be great news for big fossil fuel interests. The congressman has made it clear that he favors coal — over U.S. taxpayers. Zinke opposed efforts to reform the federal coal leasing program, which is estimated to cost U.S. taxpayers billions each year, by undervaluing public land. He was also a strong supporter of the successful effort to repeal the oil export ban, a move that is expected to increase U.S. exports while tying the country even more closely to the international oil market.
Environmentalists criticized Zinke’s selection, while recognizing that the Trump administration is building a pattern.
“If climate change denial is going to be the official position of the Trump White House, then relentless resistance will be the official position of the American people,” Greenpeace climate campaign specialist Diana Best said in an emailed statement.
“He works for the fossil industry and coal companies, shilling for coal export terminals in disadvantaged communities in states he does not even represent,” Best said. “He is also the primary author of legislation that would set our country back decades by reversing the moratorium on leasing our public lands to coal companies.”
Zinke is no friend of the Environmental Protection Agency either, supporting a bill that would have made mining and drilling on Indian reservations not subject to some regulations, accusing the agency of using “‘covert propaganda’ campaigns in order to push its anti-Montana agenda,” and criticizing efforts to curb methane production.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Zinke raised $484,000 from the energy and natural resources sector for his 2014 and 2016 campaigns. Three-quarters of that funding was from the oil and gas industries.
But as far as campaign financing goes, more questions might be raised by the fact that Zinke ran for Congress using money from a SuperPAC he himself started.
In the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court ruled that SuperPACs are not beholden to the same campaign finance laws are candidates themselves. “Independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,” Justice Kennedy wrote. Zinke’s activities raising money with a SuperPAC and then using that money as a candidate “shows just how little distinction there really is between candidates and their allied ‘outside’ groups,” ThinkProgress wrote.