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Interior Dept. Pick Promises "Balanced Approach" on Public Lands

Congressman Ryan Zinke, President-elect Donald Trump's pick to run the Interior Dept., testified that he's committed to a balanced and sustainable approach for managing the nation's public lands. (U.S. House of Representatives)
Congressman Ryan Zinke, President-elect Donald Trump's pick to run the Interior Dept., testified that he's committed to a balanced and sustainable approach for managing the nation's public lands. (U.S. House of Representatives)
January 18, 2017

DENVER – During yesterday's confirmation hearing, Congressman Ryan Zinke, President-elect Donald Trump's pick to run the Interior Department, said he's committed to a balanced and sustainable approach for managing the nation's public lands.

Chris Saeger, director of the Western Values Project, says lands critical to outdoor-recreation economies in Rocky Mountain states are frequently targets of oil and gas development, and says Zinke's approach sounds promising.

"The Department of Interior has implemented a number of reforms over the last few years that create a balance between those two uses, that make sure that the outdoor economy can continue to flourish alongside the traditional energy industry," he said.

Saeger adds Zinke will likely face pressure from energy companies to gut those reforms. Zinke told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee he disagrees with Trump's assertion that climate change is a hoax, but supports oil and gas development on federal lands to boost the economy.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the oil and gas industry, including Halliburton, Oasis Petroleum and the Red Apple Group, contributed more than $340,000 dollars to Zinke's campaigns in the past.

Saeger says ultimately, Zinke will be judged by his ability to serve the interests of the American people over special interests.

"Many of them want to write the rules themselves to make sure that oil and gas development, or coal development, are the very top priority," he added. "We hope that he has the courage to stand up and tell them 'no.'"

Zinke told the committee he opposes any transfer or sale of public lands to states, and said his three priorities as Secretary of Interior would be to restore public trust in the agency, tackle a national park maintenance backlog of over $12 billion, and support the department's front-line workers.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO