President-elect Donald Trump is expected to pick Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) to lead the Interior Department, according to The New York Times. If confirmed by the Senate, she’s expected to open up federal land and waters to oil, gas, and coal extraction, as well as undo environmental policies approved under the Obama administration.
Rodgers is the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House of Representatives. She was also appointed to serve as vice chair of Trump’s transition team. Since she was first elected to Congress in 2004, Rodgers supported legislation to open up the Atlantic Ocean to oil and natural-gas drilling and to prevent the Department of the Interior from regulating fracking, according to The Wall Street Journal. In the state of Washington, Rodgers has promoted the use of hydropower, a renewable energy source.
“It appears she will favor oil and gas and mining interests over the preservation and wise management of public lands,” says Dwight Pitcaithley, the former chief historian to the National Park Service and now a professor at New Mexico State University. “I think it would be news if this were not the case.”
In 2013, Rodgers was involved in an investigation by the House Office of Congressional Ethics for improperly using public funds to pay Republican debate coach Brett O'Donnell. Her lawyers denied the claims, according to USA Today; in 2014, the House Ethics Committee announced it was looking into the matter, but nothing came of it.
As interior secretary, Rodgers will oversee the Bureau of Land Management, which controls 250 million acres of federal land, and the National Park Service, which covers more than 84 million acres of national parks, monuments, and historic sites. She’s expected to reverse some of the policies passed under Obama, such as a moratorium on new coal leasing that the Interior Department imposed in January, according to the WSJ.
She could also favor privatizing national forests and federal land, or turning them over to states, says Bill Lowry, a professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis. That’s something environmental groups oppose because it incentivizes commercial development in wilderness areas.
Rodgers will also oversee the US Fish and Wildlife Service, a government agency responsible for many wildlife conservation efforts across the US. Under Rodgers, Republicans could try to change the Endangered Species Act, a legislation passed by Congress in 1973 to boost the conservation of threatened and endangered animals and plants, says Lowry. They could try to make it harder to list species under the act or reduce the agency’s efforts to come up with management plans to protect vulnerable species.
Her environmental record isn’t stellar. The League of Conservation Voters, a nonprofit organization that tracks how lawmakers vote on environmental issues, gave Rodgers a 4 percent lifetime score on its National Environmental Scorecard. That’s because Rodgers “has consistently voted to prioritize drilling on our public lands and waters, including in sensitive areas like the Arctic,” according to the LCV.
“That’s cause for concern for environmentalists, I think,” Lowry said. However, he adds, it might be too early to judge Rodgers. “It could have been worse as far as I’m concerned. There were discussions about people like Sarah Palin that might be in the running,” Lowry says. “I’d rather try to withhold some judgment to what she does as Secretary of Interior but I’m concerned. I’m worried about it.”