It is in the interest of U.S. national security to take advantage of all of the nation’s natural resources, included those on federal lands, President Donald Trump’s nominee for interior secretary, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), said Tuesday during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “As a former Navy SEAL I think I’ve been to 63 countries in my lifetime and I can guarantee you it is better to produce energy domestically under reasonable regulation than watch it be produced overseas with no regulation,” Zinke said.
During his campaign, Trump pledged to open up federal lands for continued mining and drilling. Harvesting fossil fuels from federal lands makes the nation less dependent on imports from other countries, Trump has argued. Based on his testimony, Zinke agrees.
The Obama administration placed several limits on fossil fuel production on federal lands and waters. The Interior Department announced early last year it would issue no new coal leases on federal lands while completing a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) of the U.S. coal leasing program. The review is intended to determine if the program is properly structured to provide a fair return to taxpayers, reflects its impacts on the environment, and will continue to help meet the nation’s energy needs.
Republicans on the committee pressed Zinke about his plans for energy production on federal lands, requesting that he open the nation’s lands and waters back up and end the PEIS. “The environmental impact statement on the federal coal program has not yet even been completed,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) commented during the Tuesday hearing. “I am very hopeful that the Department of Interior under your direction once confirmed will operate differently under you and the new administration.”
Barrasso and Zinke commiserated about the Obama administration’s “war on coal.” Coal produced from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana accounts for more than 85 percent of coal produced on federal lands. “The war on coal, it is real for communities across the West, including Wyoming, including Montana, it’s devastated small towns, ultimately threatens our country’s energy security,” Barrasso said.
The war on coal is real, Zinke agreed, but so is climate change. “The climate is changing, that’s undisputable. I’m from [near] Glacier National Park … and I’ve seen glaciers over the period of my time recede,” he said, adding that he’s seen a glacier recede even over the course of a lunch.
President Donald Trump is not so sure about climate change, however. The president has in the past called it a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. “Is the president-elect right? Is climate change a hoax?” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) pushed Zinke.
While Zinke was willing to admit climate change is real, he made a few other statements that those on the left were not as keen on. “Man has had an influence … I think that’s indisputable as well. So the climate is changing, man is an influence, I think where there’s debate on it is what that influence is,” Zinke said.
“Well, actually, there’s not a whole lot of debate now,” Sanders fired back. “The scientific community is virtually unanimous that climate change is real and causing devastating problems. There is debate on this committee, but not within the scientific community.”
According to NASA, 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree that global warming trends are “extremely likely” to be due to human activities.
Zinke’s nomination could come to a vote at any time. He is expected to be confirmed.
Zinke is likely to be confirmed, though not everybody is thrilled. “If Congressman Zinke is actually going to live up to Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy, he’s going to have to say ‘no’ to the Big Oil companies that bankrolled his political career,” Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project, said in a prepared statement Tuesday.
According to OpenSecrets.org, the top contributor to Zinke’s 2015-2016 campaign was Oasis Petroleum and the oil and gas industry contributed a total of $158,491.