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A perspective on Zinke: “only snakes and sycophants survive”

I borrowed the above quote from New Yorker columnist George Packer as it fits Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to a T. Packer’s piece describes those left in the Trump cabinet and in other administrative positions.

To survive in the Trump administration, one has to crawl on their belly like a reptile, sneaking important documents off the president’s desk to avoid disastrous policy decisions. Or using distraction and subterfuge to keep Trump from doing even more damage than he already has. Or brown-nosing to such a degree that the president won’t tweet a pink slip despite the incompetence and malfeasance of the individual.

Zinke falls into the last category: praising the president, kowtowing to corporate interests and dismantling Obama era directives (Trump’s raison d’etre). Of course, Zinke has been able to enrich himself in the process.

Then there’s Zinke’s transparency or lack thereof. Who, where and when he is meeting with people, and what they’re discussing, we’ll never know. From CNN:

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke held nearly 50 official meetings in May and June that, in sharp contrast to previous months, were so vaguely described on his official calendar that the public is unable tell what he was doing or with whom he was meeting …

… When he was asked by Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, about public records requests at a Senate hearing in June 2017, Zinke testified that he intends to lead “the most transparent Interior” of his lifetime.

“He’s delivered the exact opposite,” said Aaron Weiss of the Center for Western Priorites.

But let’s take a look at Zinke’s attempts to dismantle public lands, his derriere kissing of fossil fuel industry executives, his appointments of the unqualified to DOI positions and his science denial.

Zinke continues to make public lands more accessible to drilling and mining while at the same time lowering royalties those industries pay. There are also his inroads into wilderness areas — literally roads — and, according to Vox:

Zinke has aggressively worked to open up our public lands and natural resources to development by private interests and aggressively rolled back regulations meant to protect those resources and address issues like climate change.

Perhaps you saw the column in August by Dan Bucks, the former Montana Director of Revenue. It was picked up by the Denver Post and in a synopsis, Bucks points to Zinke, “Granting enormous financial benefits to energy and mining companies at the expense of U.S. taxpayers, states, tribes and communities. Damaging the lands, water and air and accelerating climate change for generations. Blocking or limiting the use of federal lands for conservation, recreational, historical, and sustainable economic purposes.”

The Missoulian’s Rob Chaney reports on the latest DOI proposals to rollback permitting and regulations:

…a Department of the Interior panel announced it wanted to speed up its permitting process on Bureau of Land Management acreage as well as develop new ways of charging royalties for natural gas pumped from those lands.


“The intent of these potential changes would be to decrease permitting times by removing regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production,” the notice states. “These potential changes would promote domestic oil and gas production by allowing industry to begin production more quickly.”


One proposal would automatically approve some drilling permits unless federal land managers raised objections within 45 days. The second would set up two formulas for calculating royalty rates that companies could choose between.

Zinke also likes to appoint “acting directors” to various DOI positions, like the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. By doing so, Zinke can avoid Senate hearings that are required for permanent directors, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

“The whole point of having a Senate confirmation process is that the public gets to comment on it, and the senators get to be involved and submit questions. As a result, you have a record for these people — you’ve got statements from them that you can later hold them to that will at least ground them a little bit in the realities of the world,” PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins said. “It’s just better to have an official that is known to the Senate and to the public, and has a track record, rather than these flying-under-the-radar type people who are running the show.

Finally, in light of the horrific California fires, there’s this famous Zinke quote: “There’s no dispute that the climate is changing, although it has always changed. Whether man is the direct result, how much that result is, that’s still being disputed.” Disputed by whom? The Koch Brothers? The main wildfire cause, Zinke asserts, is “environmental terrorist groups.”

Fortunately for Zinke, recent revelations of Trump’s “Crazytown,” along with the president’s terrible policy decisions, and ongoing investigations into his corruption and collusion, have kept the secretary out of the limelight.

One Montana political pundit, while critiquing The Montana Post, asked why we even write about Zinke since the “(Zinke) posts were actually against a guy that’s not running” in the midterm election.

The posts might have something to do with the fact that the planet is on life support and Zinke is pulling out the IVs and unplugging the ventilator. But more to the point, even if Zinke goes down with the Trump ship, he still has the hubris to run for office again — perhaps in Montana or his second home in California, although Santa Barbara’s 24th congressional district is a pretty solid blue — so it will probably be Montana.

Let this be a warning.

UPDATE: A day after this post was published, Zinke’s DOI rolled back the rules on the release of methane gas into the atmosphere. Methane gas is 30 times more potent at capturing heat and exacerbating global warming than carbon dioxide. Much of it comes from “flaring” at oil and natural gas fields and is practiced “in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, New Mexico and other states,” according to the Associated Press.

“We’re for clean air and water, but at the same time, we’re for reasonable regulations,” Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told reporters.

Bernhardt is wrong on all counts.



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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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