Here’s What Conservatives Say Are Outgoing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Biggest Accomplishments

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor
  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s allies touted his many reforms and policy changes.
  • President Donald Trump announced Zinke’s resignation Saturday amid a slew of ethics investigations.
  • Zinke rolled back restrictive Obama-era policies and implemented Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda.

President Donald Trump announced Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s resignation Saturday amid a slew of ethics investigations into the former Navy SEAL.

The news came as a shock to many of his staunchest allies who touted the major reforms and policy changes Zinke set in motion.

Among Zinke’s major accomplishments were rolling back restrictive Obama-era land use policies, restructuring the Interior Department and how it does business and implementing Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda.

“In the world of Washington politics, Zinke was an anomaly,” said Republican Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Bishop praised Zinke’s restructuring of the Interior Department, which includes moving offices out West, and tackling the agency’s nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog for National Parks.

“Where others dithered he got stuff done. We owe him a debt of gratitude,” Bishop said in an emailed statement. (RELATED: Meet The Man Likely To Replace Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke)

Handout photo of new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (2nd from R) rides on horseback with a U.S. Park Police horse mounted unit while reporting for his first day of work at the Interior Department in Washington

New Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (2nd from R) rides on horseback with a U.S. Park Police horse mounted unit while reporting for his first day of work at the Interior Department in Washington, U.S., March 2, 2017. Tami Heilemann/Department of Interior/Handout via REUTERS.

Probably the most visible impacts of Zinke’s tenure was the opening up of more lands to energy development, and the scaling back of two national monuments created by Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

“Streamlining permitting under the National Environmental Policy Act, reforming regulations on methane venting and flaring, and reorganizing Bears Ears National Monument are just a few of his many significant contributions,” said Tom Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance and former Trump transition team member.

Zinke’s team undertook the most thorough review of Antiquities Act designations in decades to identify potential abuses of past administrations. Trump signed orders in December 2017 to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments in Utah based on Zinke’s recommendations.

Environmental activists and Democrats opposed shrinking the monuments. However, local landowners and Native Americans supported shrinking the monuments, which they saw as harmful to land rights.

“Most importantly, Zinke has unleashed American energy potential by tapping into the vast resource reserves on federal lands and opening up previously unexplored areas to development,” Pyle said in an emailed statement.

U.S. President Trump hands pend to Hatch after signing Utah monuments executive order at Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah

U.S. President Donald Trump hands a pen used to sign an executive order to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) after announcing big cuts to Utah’s sprawling wilderness national monuments as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Rep. Mike Lee (R-UT) applaud at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque – HP1EDC41JZ1CB

Federal onshore oil production hit record levels during the first half of 2018. Republicans and conservatives often criticized the Obama administration for holding back energy production on federal lands.

Zinke’s team began rewriting the Obama administration’s five-year plan for offshore drilling. Zinke’s draft five-year plan opened up nearly all U.S. offshore areas to energy exploration, including areas off the eastern seaboard.

The Interior Department also revised Obama-era offshore drilling safety regulations put in place in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Interior officials said the rule would cut compliance costs without sacrificing safety.

A major part of Zinke’s focus was helping Alaska once again become an energy powerhouse by opening up more lands and waters to oil and gas leases. Zinke’s efforts were supported by Alaska Republicans who wanted to see their state’s economy lifted up after eight years of restrictive Obama administration policies.

“I was disappointed to learn that Secretary Zinke is stepping down,” Republican Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski tweeted. “After years of frustration with the Department, he came in and took a very different approach.”

Zinke’s likely successor, the Interior’s current deputy secretary David Bernhardt, will oversee the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s (ANWR) coastal plain, or 1002 Area. ANWR, the centerpiece of decades of political battles, was opened as part of GOP-led tax cuts passed in 2017.

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