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Zinke’s bad week but high hopes

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With all the malfeasance occurring in the current administration, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been able to avoid most Page One headlines. Reports filtering in the past few days, though, have Zinke in the news:

Should Montanans be happy that Zinke is sparing our beloved state from a public lands selloff? Turn Montana into a gated community, perhaps? Great for us but not so much for the rest of the United States. From the NYT:

“It is very clear that Montana is treated very differently,” said Chris Saeger, a Whitefish resident who leads a conservation group called the Western Values Project.

“What bothers me about him is not so much his hypocrisy, it’s that he’s boldly ambitious and not guided by any reality-based principle,” Steve Thompson, a former Montana Conservation Voters board member, said. He called the secretary’s policies beyond Montana “a deep disappointment.”

And as he faces allegations that he has violated travel and ethics rules, an examination of his Interior Department record shows that his pro-development bent has not always applied to his home state, where he is viewed as a fiercely ambitious candidate for future office.

One might wonder about the motive behind saving Montana and sacrificing other states. His transparent ambition “for future office” is often quoted in the story. In the meantime, Zinke’s devotion to the fossil fuel industry and disdain for other states’ public lands and coastlines continues.

In other news, CNN asks, is Zinke a real geologist? The cable network ponders his geological credentials:

Since becoming leader of the 70,000-employee agency, Zinke has suggested that he was a geologist or former geologist at least 40 times in public settings, including many under oath before Congress.

He uses it as a credential booster, saying things such as, “I can tell you, from a geologist, offshore mining of sand is enormously destructive environmentally, as in comparison to seismic,” as he told the House Natural Resources Committee last month.

And, “Florida is different in the currents — I’m a geologist — it’s different in geology,” in an interview with Breitbart News, defending his decision to exempt Florida from offshore drilling.

He also uses it while discussing coal revenue, seismic activity, climate change, national monuments, precious metals, endangered species, fracking and drilling.

Zinke, however, has never held a job as a geologist.

Despite the less than favorable press, Zinke soldiers on. Pres. Trump has dumped on most of his cabinet but Zinke has thus far escaped the wrath. And V.P. Pence likes Zinke, too. HuffPost reports on a PAC sponsored TV ad on Zinke’s behalf.

“From sea to shining sea, they’re America’s national treasures,” says the narrator. “But for too long, Washington has neglected our national parks. Now, Donald Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants to change that.”

The American Economic Freedom Alliance, a secretive political nonprofit with ties to Vice President Mike Pence, paid for the ads. The group has a history of both supporting and pushing Republicans.

What this gambit is, we don’t know. Zinke has backed off his proposal to triple National Park entrance fees, at least somewhat. The ad asks viewers to call their U.S. Senators and urge them to “support Ryan Zinke’s plan to give our national treasures the resources they deserve.” His plan is to raise $18 billion for his agency. Here’s how, according to the Center for American Progress:

In order for Zinke’s $18 billion in funding to materialize, the Interior Department would need to sell out sensitive wildlife habitat—like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—to oil companies, open up national monuments to mining and drilling, and expand drilling off the nation’s coasts. Not only are these actions wildly unpopular with the American public, but many are legally questionable and will inevitably end up mired in court battles. Furthermore, the proposal assumes a price for oil more than two times what it is today. In other words, Zinke’s mythical $18 billion fix relies on fuzzy math, a disconnect from reality, and a willingness to sacrifice America’s last wild places. Visitors to Zion National Park won’t be too pleased with the fresh asphalt on the park’s roads if it means staring at oil rigs next door.

What’s really behind the ad is to “get Zinke’s name in the public sphere” ahead of a future candidacy, according to Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen.

The ads ran on cable networks Fox News and MSNBC from March 26 to April 6. The right-wing group paid $73,000 for a total of 75 spots, the majority of which aired only inside the Beltway, according to information HuffPost obtained via a media consultant.

We all know that Zinke is an opportunist of the first degree, but where has he set his sights? Governor of Montana/President of the United States? Either one should be of great concern.

UPDATE: Ignore it and it will go away. That seems to be the thinking on climate change at the Department of the Interior. Speaking to a U.S. House subcommittee, Zinke said no one edited out references to human-caused climate change in a National Parks Service report. There’s evidence to the contrary. Last Best News has the story.

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About the author

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.

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