8 Ways Zinke is Just Like Pruitt

Jul 6, 2018

Gage Skidmore, flickr

Scott Pruitt’s doomed stewardship of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency bear striking resemblance to the current mess that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has created for himself and our shared public lands and waters.

Both have their share of shady deals, with Zinke’s most recent situation involving an investigation by the Interior Department’s Inspector General into the Secretary’s involvement in a real estate deal with Halliburton. And both Pruitt and Zinke have an “anything I can do for you” desire to make Trump and their fossil fuel industry friends happy, no matter if that means reversing life-saving environmental regulations or completely disregarding science as a factor in decision making. Here’s 8 striking ways that Zinke is just like Pruitt:

Pruitt was plagued with scandals. Zinke has been too.

Zinke has had his fair share of scandals - not dissimilar to Pruitt. From suspicious dealings with Halliburton to lavish spending on taxpayer’s dime, Zinke has done a number of things that have raised eyebrows and spurred investigations. And in Zinke’s case instead of a $43,000 phone booth, it was $139,000 doors.

Pruitt sold out to the fossil fuel industry. Zinke has too.

Under Secretary Zinke’s watch, public lands are being offered up to the extractive industries at higher rates than ever before. Last year the U.S. government offered up 11.8 million acres for lease to oil and gas companies alone, an area equivalent to Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Secretary Zinke is pushing for drilling and mining that would permanently scar some of America’s wildest remaining places as well – from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Zinke will be holding more auctions in September and December this year – including more than a million acres offered in Wyoming alone. As for Pruitt, in his previous role as Oklahoma’s attorney general, he regularly met with fossil fuel companies, with a particular close relationship to Devon Energy. All of which carried over into Pruitt’s questionable leadership of the EPA, as he lifted one environmental regulation after another to industry’s chagrin.

Pruitt put industry profits over public health. Zinke has too.

Under Secretary Zinke’s watch, vital protections for our air, land and water have been eliminated or significantly rolled back. This includes the gutting of a rule aimed at protecting communities from methane pollution created by oil and gas pollution on public lands. At least 74,000 people in western states are threatened by air pollution from the approximately 100,000 active oil and gas wells on public lands. And methane, the main component of natural gas, is not only known to contain carcinogens like benzene as well as lead to an increase in asthma attacks in children, it is also a more potent contributor to climate change than carbon dioxide (by a factor of 84). Meanwhile, the minute Pruitt took over EPA, he wasted no time in rescinding the agency’s own methane proposal, allowing fossil fuel companies to shield any emissions data from the public.

Pruitt let industry write the rules. Zinke has too.

Secretary Zinke has surrounded himself with industry aligned interests who have worked aggressively to rewrite rules to favor more coal, oil and gas development.  Zinke has pushed the industry’s agenda at breakneck speed, including  leasing low-potential lands at bottom-dollar prices and even repealing an Obama-era valuation rule—resulting in millions of dollars in handouts to oil, gas, and coal companies. The president of the Western Energy Alliance, an oil and gas trade association, said, “Not in our wildest dreams, never did we expect to get everything.” Rather than protecting the environment, Pruitt instead promoted the interests of fossil fuel companies through his environmental regulation rollbacks.

Pruitt ignored climate science. Zinke has too.

Public lands are already responsible for an equivalent of at least one-fifth of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Yet Zinke is continuing to blindly lease our public lands without considering the climate impact; has suppressed climate scientists who won't toe the Trump administration line; omitted climate change from its strategic planning documents; erased climate change material from agency handbooks; and even cracked down on staff trying to talk about climate change (the secretary himself reportedly chewed out a Joshua Tree National Park employee for tweeting about the subject). As for Pruitt, he did everything he could at EPA to silence government scientists from speaking publicly or conducting work on climate change, while also announcing significant changes to the way the agency would utilize science.

Pruitt took illegal action. Zinke has too.

If Zinke's time at the Department of the Interior is remembered for any single action, it will likely be his recommendation that President Trump drastically cut both Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. When Trump acted on it, using proclamations that were likely illegal (we're challenging him in court), he executed the single largest rollback of public land protections in American history.  Despite several lawsuits currently pending against the President’s illegal eliminations - including from tribal governments, outdoor industry businesses, paleontologists and others - the Bureau of Land Management is already moving ahead with opening these lands to mining and drilling.  Over 20 mining claims have been processed on lands illegally removed from the monuments.

Pruitt had financial ties to the fossil fuel industry. Zinke does too.

Secretary Zinke has received over $345,000 since 2013 in campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry. Companies like Halliburton, ConocoPhillips, and Oasis Petroleum were among some of Ryan Zinke’s largest donors. These same donors have plans to drill on tens of thousands of acres on our public lands. During his time as Oklahoma's attorney general, Pruitt filed lawsuits challenging federal environmental regulations, with co-parties to almost of the lawsuits including companies that contributed to Pruitt’s election efforts. 

Pruitt accused career staff of sabotaging his pro-industry agenda.  Zinke does too.

Scott Pruitt routinely blamed his numerous scandals on career staff and often indicated he believed they were deliberately working against him and his agenda.  He called the agency and its staff a “bastion of liberalism”.   Secretary Zinke likened taking over Interior as pirates capturing a ship at sea, stating that “I got 30% of that crew that is not loyal to the flag.”  Like Pruitt he has also blamed his questionable spending on career staff.

 

Alex Thompson
(202) 429-3940