Ryan Zinke is one step closer to becoming President Donald Trump’s secretary of the interior after the Senate moved Monday to end debate on the former Republican congressman to head the department.
The Senate’s 67-31 vote to end questioning sets up 30 hours of debate on Zinke’s nomination followed by a mid-week confirmation vote. Many Democrats believe they can work with Zinke, even though his views on climate change are not entirely in line with theirs; the former congressman believes climate change is an issue but is uncertain about what is causing the change.
He will oversee energy development on federal lands, the protection of endangered species and the operation of the country’s national parks. The Montana Republican’s opposition to divesting large swathes of federal land runs contrary to many in his own party who want to shift ownership of federal land back to the states.
Further establishing his bipartisan appeal, Zinke had a few altercations with Utah Republican Sen. Rob Bishop, the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, who worked for years to transfer millions of acres of public land from the U.S. Forest Service to the state. Bishop’s committee oversees Interior.
Environmental activists are highly critical of President Trump’s focus on oil, gas, and coal development on federal lands. Zinke, who worked on Second Amendment issues in Montana, has signaled his willingness to balance fossil fuel development with environmental stewardship.
Democrats are not convinced.
“The Trump administration has made it clear it wants to pursue an aggressive energy development agenda undoing reasonable protections on environmentally sensitive lands and waters,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat from Washington with the Senate Committee on Energy.
Trump campaigned on opening federal land to oil drilling. And, like Zinke, the president also believes the federal government needs to enter into shared governance with state governments in order to make sure federally controlled lands are regulated more efficiently.
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