President-elect Donald Trump has picked Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT) to lead the Department of the Interior, according to Politico and The Washington Post. Today’s announcement surprises many who expected Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) to fill the post.
Zinke, Montana’s only congressman in the House of Representatives, is relatively new to politics. But he made headlines back in 2014 when he called Hillary Clinton “the Antichrist,” The New York Times reminds us. He was a Navy SEAL from 1985 until 2008, when he joined the Montana State Legislature. In 2014, he was elected to Congress, where he has supported legislation to remove protections for endangered species and prevent the Bureau of Land Management from regulating fracking.
However, he also voted to fund clean energy and he opposed a measure that would have sold off federal land to individual states for logging, the The Washington Post reports. Still, that hasn’t been enough to shore up his environmentalist credentials. The League of Conservation Voters, a nonprofit that monitors and scores environmental law-making, gave him an abysmal score of 3 percent.
That’s a percentage point lower than the favorite to win the position, House Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). Raul Labrador (R-ID) was also under consideration. Neither the Trump transition team nor Representative Zinke’s offices in Billings, Montana or Washington, DC responded immediately to requests for comment about whether he’ll accept the post.
If he does, and the Senate confirms him, it will take him out of the running against Democratic Senator Jon Tester, whom Zinke was expected to challenge in 2018. Zinke’s absence from the race could keep the seat at least a little safer for the incumbent, Politico reports.
As secretary of the interior, Zinke would oversee 500 million acres of land concentrated in the west, and manage 1.7 billion acres of ocean along the coast. He also would oversee the development of nearly a quarter of the United States’ energy supplies.
In the past, Zinke said that given the choice between supporting a healthy environment or creating an energy-independent North America, he picks energy independence. He told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that he supports investing in “all-of-the-above energy,” including natural gas and “clean” coal. (Which is not a thing.)
He hasn’t gone as far as Trump in calling climate change an outright hoax. “I think that without question the climate’s changing. It has always changed,” he told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. But, he added, he isn’t convinced that humans are to blame.
To be clear, the vast majority of scientists are very convinced that not only is the climate changing, but that people are major contributors. The American Association for the Advancement of Science says: “The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.”
Zinke’s hedging is a problem, because right now the Department of the Interior pledges to “bring the best science to bear to understand these consequences and will undertake mitigation, adaptation, and enhancements to support natural resilience and will take steps to reduce carbon pollution, including through the responsible development of clean energy.” Doing that while ignoring science will be challenging.