Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (Photo: BSEE / Flickr)
The man charged with protecting our public lands is handing them over to fossil fuel companies.
The media’s been swirling around the many scandals involving Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, and rightfully so. But there’s another scandalous member of Trump’s cabinet who’s bending ethical standards and attacking our environment: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Like Pruitt, Ryan Zinke is misusing taxpayer dollars, promoting industries he’s supposed to regulate, and remaining completely opaque when it comes to decision-making. He deserves as much media and congressional scrutiny as Pruitt.
The Interior Department is supposed to be the steward of our country’s “lands, water, wildlife, and energy resources,” according to its mission statement. But Zinke’s actions toward U.S. national parks and public lands show where his alliances truly rest: with the fossil fuel industry.
Though he’s tried to play himself as a serious outdoorsman — even as he’s incorrectly rigging a fly fishing rod or wearing a National Park Service hat backwards — Zinke has made clear his real mission is to drill and extract all over public lands.
He’s lifted a moratorium on leasing federal lands for coal mining, allowing the coal industry to exploit public resources while giving taxpayers pennies on the dollar. He’s weakened fracking safety standards for public lands. And he’s taken the first steps toward opening the sensitive coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.
Zinke is risking our economy, ecosystems, and gateway communities around our parks with his unilateral decisions to put profit and pollution over public health.
What’s more, Zinke is also working with Trump on the largest rollback to national monument boundaries and declarations in U.S. history. He’s recommended essentially eliminating Utah’s beautiful Bears Ears National Monument, home to sacred sites and areas of tremendous cultural importance for at least five Native American tribes.
And if his attacks on the environment aren’t enough, Zinke also has a host of ethical problems — including questionable travel expenses with private jets and helicopter rides paid for with wildfire-fighting funding. In fact, there have been at least four internal investigations reviewing Zinke’s tenure at Interior.
He even tried to spend $139,000 in taxpayer money on doors for his office. And he forces staff to raise a special flag for him every time he enters the Interior Department building — seriously — and then take it down when he leaves.
More seriously, Zinke has falsely claimed to be a geologist at least 40 times, including in congressional testimony to support his environmental rollbacks.
Finally, Zinke has created a hostile environment in the workplace. He’s told staff that diversity isn’t important. He’s transferred women, Native Americans, blacks, and Latinos out of their jobs in an attempt to get them to quit. (And on his radio show in 2013, he supported the racist idea that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States.)
Ryan Zinke isn’t interested in what’s best for national parks and public lands. He should be removed, or he should step down immediately.
When he testifies before two congressional committees this month, I hope those members of Congress will hold him accountable. His decisions will have irreversible impacts, but it’s not too late to try and clean up the mess he’s already made.