While I was off enjoying some of our majestic public lands on a quick trip down to Grand Teton National Park, it seems our Congressman decided to make some news by staking out two almost diametrically opposed positions on the ownership of public lands. That Congressman Zinke made this flip flop is hardly news, as his entire political career is a series of reversals, twists, and McTwists that would shame Tony Hawk, but this was an especially egregious display, as Zinke managed to execute the reverse on the same day.
If a Montanan had happened by Zinke’s personal vanity page at the US House web site Wednesday, she would have been greeted with this giant headline: “Zinke does it again: Bucks party leaders and votes NO on transferring ownership of public lands” leading a story about his vote in a committee against a proposal to allow two million acres of federal land to be transferred to the states. The press release doesn’t see fit to mention why Zinke, who believes he is one of the most influential members of the House, couldn’t persuade his GOP colleagues to vote with him, but the vote was the right one. So far, so good.
Unfortunately, Zinke made a far worse vote in the House Natural Resources Committee, when he supported HR 2316, which would allow the transfer of millions of acres of federally-managed, public lands to the control of committees run by logging and mining interests and county commissioners, like some of the ones in Montana who support the public lands transfer movement wholesale. As the Montana Wilderness Association notes:
This would undoubtedly open up millions of acres of national forest lands – including our favorite places to hike, hunt, fish, and camp – to unfettered resource extraction.
The advisory committees would have complete control in deciding how to manage public lands within the so-called “community forest demonstration areas.” This would undermine bedrock environmental laws, including the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, and give extractive industry exclusive control of our national forests. This unprecedented approach to transferring and industrializing public lands would lead to the loss of clean water, wildlife habitat, and recreational use of public lands that are owned by all Americans.
In our post-factual political world, Zinke may be the ideal candidate for public office. It takes a special degree of shamelessness to brag about opposing a smaller transfer of public lands the very same day you vote to create a more serious threat to even more of the land that we use for recreation and spiritual renewal.
Perhaps the only true thing here is that Zinke did “do it again.” Whether it’s abortion rights, climate change, gun rights, Supreme Court nominees, energy policy, public lands, or anything else, there’s only one issue that Ryan Zinke has remained constant on: the promotion of Ryan Zinke, truth, and the needs of his constituents be damned.