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Meet Donald Trump's Grifty Pick For Interior Dept., Montana Rep. 'Commander' Zinke!
Drilling rigs, mine tailings not shown
First-term Montana congressweasel Ryan Zinke, the former Navy SEAL who's really good at running super-PAC scams, has been tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to head the Interior Department. Zinke, a huge fan of the "extraction industries," is expected to be an enthusiastic supporter of helping along the mining, logging, drilling, and otherwise raping of our nation's natural heritage, because God can always make more Nature if He thinks it's all that important. Zinke (rhymes with Inspector Clouseau saying "monkey," not with the mineral) seems a natural for the position, as he already serves on the House Natural Resources Committee, which exists to transfer natural resources to industrial hands with as little fuss as possible. He ran for Montana's single House seat on a platform of -- you'll never guess -- pursuing American energy independence. Were this any other president-elect, people would be saying Zinke's the worst choice for Interior since James Watt. Compared to some of the other loons Trump is appointing, he hardly stands out.
There's one itsy-bitsy teeny-tiny bright spot in Zinke's record on public lands: While he loves the idea of exploiting them for every last dollar industry can get, he's actually opposed to the far-right, Bundy Dildo Militia notion that federal public lands should be turned over to the states and thereby sold off to private interests. Weird, huh? Over the summer, Zinke actually resigned as a delegate to the Republican National Convention when the convention's platform committee adopted a measure advocating turning over federal lands to state control, saying, "What I saw was a platform that was more divisive than uniting ... At this point, I think it's better to show leadership." This wasn't solely a matter of principle, however -- Zinke's Democratic opponent had been accusing him of supporting the turnover of federal lands to the state because he'd voted for a bill by Idaho Republican Raul Labrador that would have approved a pilot project to place some federal lands under state management. Zinke insisted he was simply open to the possibility that states might manage the land more efficiently but that it should still be owned by the feds, and besides, it was only an experiment. (Labrador, for his part, is all for getting rid of federal land, so you can see why Zinke's vote on his bill would make it look like he's a closet Bundyite.)
Regardless of who owns federal lands, there's little doubt Zinke wants industry to dig, drill, cut, and blast as much valuable stuff out of the lands as possible, as the Billngs Gazette detailed during Zinke's reelection campaign:
In June, Zinke proposed appointing a “watchdog panel” of state, tribal and local government representatives and mining industry representatives to advise the Department of Interior on mineral leasing. House Democrats said Zinke's proposal gave too much power to local interests.
The proposal, known as the “Certainty for States and Tribes Act,” was in response to a suspension of new coal leases made by The Department of Interior earlier this year. Interior officials suspended leasing so the department could determine whether royalties on coal mined on federal land were set too low.
Not surprisingly, the coal industry thinks it's a hell of a fine idea, since it would keep the mean old feds from interfering with the important job of taking as much delicious mineral wealth out of the ground as humanly possible. But don't worry, local folks, even Native American tribes, would be allowed to raise their hands and say they don't like exploitation projects before industry rams through whatever projects it wants. Everybody gets a seat at the table, but some voices get louder amplification. It's a nicely named bill though: The tribes can be certain they'll be screwed.
As Yr Wonkette discovered in 2015, Zinke is also a master of political fundraising scams, using a fake run for Speaker of the House to channel all sorts of money into a network of direct-mail scams disguised as conservative super-PACs. But he did help produce a swell anti-Obama ad about all that bowing Barack Obama does to the foreigns, and also sold some pretty nifty commemorative coins. How many Interior Secretaries have had their own fake commemorative coins?
Zinke's also not too hot on all those job-killing environmental regulations, earning a whopping 3 percent voting score from the League of Conservation Voters and opposing an Interior Department rule that would have restricted releases of methane from oil and gas drilling on federal lands. But he had a great reason for opposing that! It's not that he's pro-methane (he totally is) but that he considered the rule redundant to other, existing regulations:
“Clean air and clean water are absolute top priorities when we talk about responsible energy development, however the final rule issued by the Obama administration does nothing to further protect our resources,” he said in a statement. “This rule is a stark reminder that we need to invest in infrastructure projects like the Keystone pipeline, so we don’t need to flare excess gas.”
Yes, he really thinks toxic sludge is good for the environment. And here's a heck of a surprise: Zinke has had some very flexible positions on whether science is real. He said in 2014, during his first run for Congress, that climate change isn't exactly a hoax, but "it’s not proven science either," which of course it is for everyone who isn't on the payroll or a political ally of the oil bidness. Zinke went on:
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.
So yeah, he'll fit in just great with the Trump administration, while claiming to be a "Teddy Roosevelt Republican."