Interior Secretary Nominee Zinke Supports Fracking and Drilling on Public Lands

January 20, 2017

While serving in the house, Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke voted against land, water, and species protections, says Randi Spivak of the Center for Biological Diversity

While serving in the house, Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke voted against land, water, and species protections, says Randi Spivak of the Center for Biological Diversity



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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Environmental organizations are sounding the alarm about another nominee to Trump’s Cabinet, this time Representative Ryan Zinke, for Secretary of the Interior. The Senate is holding hearings this week to decide whether to confirm Zinke. Issues that critics are concerned about include, Zinke’s questioning of climate science, his pro-coal position, his service on the board of an oil pipeline, … Technology Company, and his support for the Keystone XL pipeline.

As Secretary of the Interior he would be responsible for the nation’s parks, which produce as much as 40% of the nation’s coal. Also, he would have a say about the future of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Now joining us to speak about all of this is Randi Spivak. Randi Spivak is the Program Director for the Center for Biological Diversity. Thanks for joining us, Randi.

RANDI SPIVAK: Glad to be here. Thank you.

SHARMINI PERIES: Randi, it looks like the Center for Biological Diversity had been compelled to take a very hard stand on the appointment of Zinke. Why are you taking such a stern position?

RANDI SPIVAK: Well, for a couple of reasons. You know, one, I think it’s important for people to understand just how important this post is of Secretary of the Interior, because as Secretary, Zinke would oversee a half a billion acres of America’s public land. It’s our national park system. But it’s also our high deserts, the beautiful high deserts. The Sagebrush Sea, the Fish and Wildlife Service, which has authority over endangered species both ensuring that the 1,500 listed species are recovered, as well as which other species might get on the list. As well as our national wildlife refuges.

So, in terms of impact on land and wildlife and recreation and waters, it’s huge. Oh, I also should mention he’s also in charge of the offshore area of our country –- all of our coastal areas — many of which are open to offshore drilling and fracking. So, the legacy that this Secretary leaves could be one of greatness for future generations, or of tremendous harm. When we looked at his record, there were several reasons why we took the position, which is, we do not think he will have a positive impact.

First, for starters, look at his record while he has been in Congress. He’s been a congressman, just for 2015 and 2016. And in the short time he’s been in Congress, he voted against the environment, against land, against waters, and against protecting endangered species 97% of the time. This is exactly what he would be in charge of, if he gets confirmed to the post of Secretary of the Interior. So, that is a big F on a scorecard for Ryan Zinke, and tremendously troubling.

Now, a lot of people have lauded him because Ryan Zinke actually stood up to the Republican Party, and walked out of the convention drafting the party platform that called for selling off America’s public lands. Well, that is good for Zinke. But let’s face it, that’s a pretty low bar for someone’s who being considered as supposed to run the agency, to announce that they are not going to sell off lands, that’s a pretty low bar.

What is a bit more insidious is that where Zinke is a big champion of, is giving the states an extractive industry’s control over our federal lands. In fact, in 2012, he signed a pledge, and it’s the Montana Constitutional Governance Pledge –- folks, look it up online -– Zinke signed it, and what that pledge simply states is that they will work to undo all of the, “Bureaucracies that have sprung up”, and for the unlawful, “Seizure of our native land.” And he talks about the Bureau of Land Management, the Parks Service, the Wildlife and Fisheries, in essence the very agencies that Zinke would oversee.

So, he signed a pledge pretty much to eviscerate the very agencies he wants to over… he might get to oversee. What he did say in the hearing is, when questioned on -– and it’s very disturbing that, except for Senator Tester, no other senator questioned him squarely on this issue –- not giving away or selling public land. We know his answer to that, and again it’s a low bar.

But what is his position on giving the states and corporate interests management over our public lands, and he is for it. He is for it. He pretty much told that to Senator McCloskey. Senator Tester, from Montana, was the only one who said the first step to selling and giving away our public lands is letting the states manage it.

And why that is of such a concern is because states, they are looking to maximize revenue. So, if you want to log as much as you can, drill and frack as much as you can, yeah, that’s what the states… they’ll be good managers. But if you want to protect wildlife, waters, recreation, then no, the states will be disastrous managers.

SHARMINI PERIES: Eh… but…

RANDI SPIVAK: For all those reasons, we are taking a dim view of Zinke.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Randi, let’s take a look at Senator Bernie Sanders questioning Zinke during the hearings.

BERNIE SANDERS: Is President-elect Trump right? Is climate change a hoax?

RYAN ZINKE: I can give you… the best answer is three things. First of all, the climate is changing. That’s indisputable. I’m from Glacier National Park, and…

BERNIE SANDERS: You don’t have any more glaciers there, huh?

RYAN ZINKE: Well, and I’ve seen glaciers over the period of my time recede. Matter of fact, when my family and I have eaten lunch on Grinnell Glacier, the glaciers receded during lunch.

BERNIE SANDERS: If you could…

RYAN ZINKE: Yeah.

BERNIE SANDERS: Is the President-elect right? Is climate change a hoax?

RYAN ZINKE: Well, if I can continue — two more…

BERNIE SANDERS: Okay.

RYAN ZINKE: …of the points –- I’ll make it short. The second thing is, man has had an influence. I don’t think… I think that’s indisputable, as well. So, climate is changing, man is an influence. I think where there’s debate on it, is what that influence is, what can we do about it? And as the Department of the Interior, I will inherit, if confirmed, the USGS. We have great scientists there. I’m not a climate scientist expert, but I can tell you, I will become a lot more familiar with it, and it’ll be based on objective science.

SHARMINI PERIES: So, Randi, from the face of things in terms of that clip of the hearings, it doesn’t sound too bad. He’s at least admitting to manmade climate change, and admitting that the science might actually be right, and also acknowledging that the glaciers are receding. What do you make of that?

RANDI SPIVAK: Well, good for Bernie, for forcing him to give an answer. But I think what the question is, what will he do about it as Secretary of the Interior? And what he said in the hearing, despite his acknowledgement that man has… is influencing climate change, he has said he still wants to continue to mine coal, drill and frack fossil fuels on public land.

RYAN ZINKE: …looking at traditional sources to make sure we’re better at doing that, you have certainly horizontal drilling, fracking, coal — all the above, I think, is the right approach. When it comes out of the test tube, and into fielding, energy needs to be affordable, reliable and abundant.

RANDI SPIVAK: So, what’s concerning is that here, on the one hand he admitted that, yeah, climate change is real. Yeah, man has a hand in doing it. And I’m going to continue what we’ve been doing, which is to emit emissions from fossil fuel burning. That’s a big concern.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Randi, your job at your organization is to protect public lands, and you’ve been doing this work, and it’s preceded the Trump administration coming in. What was your track record, in terms of being able to influence the Obama administration, on this particular issue?

RANDI SPIVAK: We were definitely making headway on that. We helped catalyze the… people call it the, Keep It In The Ground, movement. Which basically, the founding principles of that are, if we’re really going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to keep most fossil fuels in the ground. Not just handle emissions reductions at the smokestacks; we need to handle it by keeping it in the ground. And we were making tremendous progress.

One of the things the Obama administration did, and which we fear will be overturned by Zinke, if not Trump, is the administration put a moratorium on new federal coal leases, and pledged to… and started a process to undertake a comprehensive review of the federal coal program. Including its impact on the climate, and compatibility with their Paris goals -– Paris Agreement goals –- as well as the full cost, not just the taxpayers financially, but also in terms of the social cost of climate change.

So, did President Obama do everything we wanted? No. But did he begin to say we need to keep some fossil fuels in the ground and start the coal moratorium? Yes. And that was very, very good. We were hoping to make more progress on that front, but we’ll have to put that on hold for a while.

SHARMINI PERIES: The Center for Biological Diversity obviously has a greater agenda than defeating the Trump administration, who seems to be overwhelmingly in support of the fossil fuel industry. But give us what ideal policy, if you could actually craft it for the Trump administration, may look like? And I’m not asking for a comprehensive plan here, but some of the key things that you would like to see done with the Trump administration, that we can all put our support behind, and assist you in that process.

RANDI SPIVAK: I think it’s… I don’t mean to be a pessimist here, but I honestly think it’s going to be very difficult. In terms of climate change and fossil fuel extraction, and development on public lands and waters, I think the best thing we can do is fight to maintain some of the gains that we did under the Obama administration.

So if, for example, Secretary Zinke, or Trump through an Executive Order, or even Congress through legislation, tries to lift the coal moratorium and do away… stop the process of review, that is something that I would hope people can weigh in on. My lights just went out, sorry. Okay, here we go.

That is something that people need to weigh in on, because maintaining that moratorium for three years, and a really good scientific review of the program, to disclude some of these impacts is critical. We don’t want to lose that. And we need people to raise their voices about that.

Another thing is, any land and waters, for example, in the five-year plan for offshore drilling that were taken off the table by Obama, that is something we can also see lifted. McCloskey was basically goading Ryan Zinke into doing that at the hearing. And something else that people need to weigh in on, because those areas in the plan for offshore drilling that were taken off the table, very good in the Arctic, and they need to remain off the table.

In terms of public lands, another thing, and no one’s talked about this, but, well, the state… we need to get people to fight to maintain management by the federal agencies. Any attempts by Zinke to turn management over to the states is going to be truly a disaster, and we really need people to weigh in with their senators, and with the Department of the Interior with Zinke, not to have that happen. That’s because the states put corporate interests above water, wildlife, etcetera.

I know that’s not a list of proactive things to happen, but there are things we really need to guard against and to ensure that some of the gains we made under Obama stay.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Randi, I thank you so much for joining us today.

RANDI SPIVAK: Thank you.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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