Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke: Unless you live in Montana prior to the 2016 Presidential election, it is unlikely you have heard of Ryan Zinke. Zinke was a Navy SEAL for 22 years before being elected to the Montana Senate in 2008. He has a B.S. in geology, an M.B.A., and an M.S. in global leadership, an education that nowhere near qualifies him to manage such a massive public agency.
Until Donald Trump nominated Zinke for this position, he was known as a moderate conservative. But after the Trump nomination and confirmation, he took a hard turn to the far right. On his very first day, he rescinded an Obama era ban on lead bullets and fishing tackle in National Wildlife Refuges. Lead is of course scientifically proven to be a dangerous environmental contaminant posing risks to virtually every living thing. The move was lambasted by environmental groups but not surprisingly praised by the National Rifle Association and other far right organizations.
But this was just the start. In just over one year, Zinke has lad an assault on public lands while catering to special interest groups (he’s received over $355,000 in political contributions from the oil and gas industry and another $31,000 from the coal industry) and private interests. The mission statement for the Department of the Interior (DOI) states: “The Department of the Interior protects and manages the Nation’s natural resources and cultural heritage; provides scientific and other information about those resources; and honors its trust responsibilities or special commitments to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and affiliated island communities.”
The DOI also has the responsibility to manage a massive amount of land and water resources. The Bureaus of Indian Affairs, Land Management, Ocean Energy Management, Reclamation, Safety and Environment Enforcement, as well as the National Park Service, the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey all fall into the domain of the DOI.
The numbers are staggering, with the DOI being responsible for over 500 million acres of land. They also have jurisdiction on over 1.76 billion acres of the continental shelf where they have some 8,300 active oil and gas leases. For comparison, an acre is about the size of one professional football field. The DOI also manages the water supply for over 31 million people, manages somewhere around 500 dams and around 400 reservoirs. Energy projects in federally managed areas supply approximately 1/3 of the U.S. energy needs.
Despite the mission to “protects and manages the Nation’s natural resources” Zinke almost immediately started looking for National Monuments which he could decrease in size. In Utah, he recommend that both Bear’s Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante be reduced in size. And sure enough, Trump agreed, and reduced them by 85% and 46% respectively. I’m unsure how significantly reducing their borders is in line with the mission to protect.
Since Zinke took office, he has been a wrecking ball on environmental protections. He’s opened a ton of coastal waters for oil and gas exploration. He’s lifted restrictions on new coal leases on public lands. He’s reduced regulations to keep communities adjacent to oil/gas operations safe from methane pollution. He’s allowed renewal of mining leases near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. He’s proposed a 90% cut to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He’s proposed significant increases in National Park entrance fees, in a clear attempt to limit visitation and make them unaffordable to many Americans.
It doesn’t take long to realize his decisions are made because he’s bending to special interests and extreme corruption. Take the mining leases outside of the BWCA for example. The Washington Post, fake news according to the current administration, reported this. The leases are held by a large Chilean conglomerate (yes, not even a US company, MAGA, right?). One of the major players in this company rents a Washington DC home to Ivanka Trump and that piece of shit Jared Kushner.
Minnesota governor Mark Dayton had this to say: “This shameful reversal by the Trump Administration shows that big corporate money and special interest influence now rule again in Republican-controlled Washington. We will have to uncover why the financial interests of a large Chilean corporation, with a terrible environmental record, has trumped the need to protect Minnesota’s priceless Boundary Waters Canoe Area.” He could not be more accurate, this is a clear case of cronyism and idyllic of the corruption in our political system.
Need more evidence, check out this article. Zinke met with the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) board of directors at Trump International Hotel in Washington DC. An oil man, meeting with the oil lobby, at a property owned by our new President who also despises environmental regulations and fails to recognize the human role in climate change. According to the article, that same day, the Interior Department (which Zinke now runs) announced plans to get rid of an Obama-era rule toughening standards on how much fossil fuel companies owe the government for drilling and mining on federal land. Zinke and the oil industry are in deep, with Zinke even paying $12,000 to fly a chartered flight from Vegas to Montana in an oil executives plane. If traveling like the rest of us, the cost would have been around $300. And who pays for this? The tax payer of course.
So the facts are clear. Zinke is a corrupt oil man working to make himself and his buddies rich at the expense of public lands and environmental protections all while publicly claiming to value our public lands more than anything else. The conflicts of interest run deeper than the oil wells he wants to drill. So what can we do? Honestly probably not a lot. But we can try. First, we can contact the Department of the Interior and express our grievances. The main number is (202) 208-3100, but guess what, it’s all automated and there is no way to reach Zinke directly. With a little digging, you can find a different number, (202) 208-7351. I’ve yet to get a human to answer, and I’ve yet to have someone call me back as the recorded message implies. Our government, after all, DOES NOT WANT OUR INPUT. It interferes with their agendas.
Looking into companies that he’s a part of, it’s exceedingly difficult to get any contact information or even websites. Continental Divide International, operated by the Zinke family, has almost no online footprint what so ever. No website, no email, no phone number. Another Zinke company, On Point Montana, has a phone number listed (406-461-6326) but when you call there is no identifying information. Just the option to leave a message (which won’t be returned).
So we have an individual in office with a salary being paid by tax payer dollars. He’s supposed to be looking out for the interests of the masses, not of special interest groups. And we have no way of actually contacting him. So please call the only number we have, (202) 208-7351. If you get through, ask to speak with Zinke. If you have to leave a message, leave one. But make your voice heard. Ask him to stop taking money from the oil/gas lobby. Ask him to stop shrinking public lands. Ask him to uphold environmental regulations and stop denying climate change science. Ask him to do these things for you, and for all of us.