Highlights of Zinke's low points in year one as In(f)erior Secretary

Feb 28, 2018

Attacks on America's public lands by the Trump-Zinke administration prompt demonstrations nationwide, including this one at the White House. 

Bill Clark, Getty
After just one year in office, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has proved to be wildly successful at alienating a wide array of groups across the nation and throughout the West, including Republican governors, sportsmen, conservationists and tribal leaders.

Most Americans see right through Zinke’s fake-cowboy, fake-conservationist act.  Instead of protecting America’s land and waters, Zinke and Trump are selling out the nation’s public lands to polluters and the fossil fuel interests. 

While alarm is concentrated in the West, the threats stretch from drilling off the shores of Southeastern states to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the northern edge of Alaska.

Zinke betrays conservation values he pretends to support.

In the year since Secretary Zinke rode a horse to work at the Interior Department HQ, he has betrayed many of the values and the Western ethos he claims to embody.  Here are a few examples:

  • Zinke’s gratuitous “review” of the landmark sage-grouse conservation plans, which cover millions of acres across several Western states, threatens to throw out more than six years of work by diverse Western interests.  Montana Governor Steve Bullock said last October that opening up the sage grouse plans would undermine “years of bipartisan collaboration between private landowners, conservation groups, industry and state and federal partners” and invite “new risks of an endangered species act listing.”  In a May 26, 2017 letter to Zinke, Wyoming governor Matt Mead and Colorado governor John Hickenlooper expressed dismay that the overhaul to the plan is “not the right decision.”  
  • The Western Governors’ Association sent a letter to Zinke on February 1, 2018 listing numerous concerns and expressing frustration that they were not consulted before Zinke’s release of a proposed reorganization of the Department of the Interior operations in Western states. 
  • Reacting to proposed plans to expand offshore drilling, at least 15 governors of coastal states, including 5 Republicans, publicly opposed the administration’s drilling plans.

Zinke undermines bipartisan conservation laws, policies and public participation.

Meanwhile, aided and abetted by Congress, Zinke and Trump are tearing apart bedrock laws and longstanding bipartisan conservation policies faster and deeper than any other administration.

  • Starving what may be America’s most effective conservation law.  The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) faces the unprecedented threat of not being authorized for the first time since 1965.  Without reauthorization and badly funded, it could limp along, but only as a pale shadow of its intended purpose. Signaling his disdain, Trump and Zinke virtually zeroed out LWCF funding in the FY19 budget outline.  Squeezed by an indifferent President and anti-conservationists in Congress, this is uncharted territory for this time-tested, popular, bipartisan law.
  • Drilling in the Arctic Refuge and other fragile places.  There seems to be no place that Zinke and Trump don’t want to mine, drill or log.  Zinke has championed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a pristine sanctuary for polar bears, caribou and countless birds first protected by President Eisenhower. The Trump administration is working to expand drilling into ecologically sensitive regions of the Western Arctic’s National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, especially the Teshekpuk Lake area, which is essential for many migratory birds. Reversing the ban on new oil drilling throughout most of the Arctic Ocean is yet another goal for the Zinke-Trump team.
  • Ignoring public comments and participation. Sometimes called the Magna Carta of environmental laws, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) ensures public notification and involvement in federal projects that affect the environment. Zinke and Trump have been working to waive or water down NEPA requirements more aggressively than any previous administration. Moreover, they ignored millions of Americans who took the time to comment last year in opposition to the massive cuts to national monument acreage in Western states.

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Contact: Michael Reinemer, The Wilderness Society, 202-429-3949, michael_reinemer@tws.org