Taking a break from organizing private tours of facilities blocked to the public but made available to fat cats and donors, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke came to Montana this week to talk about increasing American oil and gas development. Speaking to a small group at the Fort Peck Interpretive Center, he argued that Interior is going to make a “grand pivot” to encourage energy development:
“We should be energy dominant,” Zinke said. “That’s a wise policy. It is better to produce energy in this country under reasonable regulations than watch it get produced overseas with no regulation.”
He told the people at the roundtable about the need to make changes at the Department of the Interior.
“This next year, we’re going to do a grand pivot,” Zinke said. “And the pivot is, the energy sector is fine. The grand pivot is reorganization.”
While that rhetoric is certainly in keeping with how Zinke has seen his role at Interior–working to relax regulations protecting the environment to enrich extraction industry CEOs, it’s in stark contrast with what he told a group of outdoor sports enthusiasts and conservationists just days ago.
Using the exact same language, Zinke told this audience that the grand pivot at Interior is going to be conservation:
Steve Moyer, vice president for government affairs at Trout Unlimited, said Zinke used the term “grand pivot” several times to indicate a change of focus away from energy development and toward conservation is planned at Interior over the next few years.
“The fundamental message to us was, ‘We did what we needed to do the first year,’ in terms of things like energy dominance, monument reviews, those kinds of things. And basically, the message was he knows those weren’t very popular with us,” Moyer said in an interview.
With Zinke, it’s always hard to know if he’s being deliberately disingenuous or just spitting out talking points without entirely understanding them, but one would hope that the conservation groups who backed his candidacy for Interior only to see Zinke roll back monument protections, devote his schedule almost exclusively to industry sources, and defend huge cuts to Interior and the Land and Water Conservation Fund would be wary about any promises from Zinke when it comes to conservation or protecting public lands.
Perhaps the only real truth from Zinke’s statements is that some sort of pivot is always likely for the Secretary, who in his brief political career has “pivoted” his position on gun rights, reproductive rights, public lands, climate change, offshore oil drilling, and a whole host of issues too large to repeat here.
Given Zinke’s position, conservation groups should absolutely listen to and talk with Secretary Zinke about protecting the environment and our public lands, but given his repeated, constant predisposition for dishonesty, they’d be fools to take him at his word.