Ryan Zinke Is the Hat Act of  the American Environment

Under Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the Interior, it’s a sell-off from sea to shining sea. – Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker

A “hat act” is a performer who dons a fancy, ten-gallon cowboy hat as his sole claim to the traditions of country and western music. He is a manufactured star selling a manufactured product designed for one thing only – the generation of profit.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is the hat act of the American environment. Since his appointment, Interior’s traditional environmental mission has been replaced with a mission of resource exploitation aimed at wildlife and the lands upon which they depend. Not surprisingly, Zinke is now the subject of a torrent of ethics investigations, the kind that often burdens appointed government officials who mix business, and industry, with duty.

In her New Yorker article, Elizabeth Kolbert portrays Zinke’s outward persona as a hustle from day one:

On his first day as Secretary of the Interior, last March, Ryan Zinke rode through downtown Washington, D.C., on a roan named Tonto. . . One of Zinke’s first acts, after dismounting from Tonto, was to overturn a moratorium on new leases for coal mines on public land.

Zinke’s agenda has regularly incensed environmentalists, Some examples:

  • Opened protected public lands to drilling, as well as mining.
  • Reduced the size of Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments to allow for oil and mineral exploitation
  • Began the process of opening offshore oil and gas drilling in the nation’s 22 coastal states.
  • Removed “threatened” status that protected Yellowstone Park grizzly bears under the Endangered Species Act, allowing them to be hunted.
  • Supported the use of baiting wildlife dens to allow more aggressive hunting of bears and wolves in Alaskan wildlife preserves.
  • Stocked Interior’s Wildlife Conservation Council with recreational hunters.

What should be the Secretary’s mission? According to its website, the Department of Interior:

. . . uses sound science to manage and sustain America’s lands, water, wildlife, and energy resources, honors our nation’s responsibilities to tribal nations, and advocates for America’s island communities.

As keepers of our nation’s legacy, we manage the resources in our care to benefit Americans now and in the future. Our department and its employees are developing and implementing the cutting-edge science and expert management techniques that make this possible.

Beneath that mission statement are links to DOI programs. “Climate change” tops the list. A click brings you to this:

Content unavailable

That page doesn’t seem to be available on our system. Its content may have been moved elsewhere — or our site might just be having trouble right now.

Our site-search feature may be able to help. To search DOI.gov and other Interior sites, start by clicking the magnifying lens at the top of the screen.

The recommended “site-search” takes the visitor to web pages that are mostly password protected.

In an escalating scandal that recalls the travails of President Ronald Reagan’s environmental team, the Interior Secretary is fighting for his political life on the heels of the departure of disgraced EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.  The New York Times published a Guide to the Ryan Zinke Investigations:

Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, faces at least a half-dozen ongoing ethics inquiries related to his leadership at the Interior Department.

The inquiries include investigations into Mr. Zinke’s personal financial dealings and his handling of policy matters like the redrawing of the boundaries of a national monument in Utah.

According to a person familiar with the matter, one of those inquiries — into whether Mr. Zinke stood to benefit from a Montana development deal linked to the energy giant Halliburton — has very likely been referred to the Department of Justice for further review.

Among the charges leveled: violations of the Hatch Act, bending to improper political influence, reducing the boundaries of national monuments to benefit a fellow Republican, mismanaging a charitable foundation, violating travel policies, and conflicts of interest over the Montana land deal that benefited Haliburton.

Although Zinke has managed to hang on to his position for longer than some observers expected, including EarthDesk, he is likely on the way out the door. His prolonged exit has more to do with the administration’s need to create distance between his departure and the forced departure of Pruitt than any question about his mounting troubles. Even President Trump will become fed-up over the unnecessary appearance his environmental agencies house a cabal of corrupt officials.

As we wrote in an article that anticipated the doomed tenures of Zinke and Pruitt, “Come an appointee’s judgement day, a president rarely extends the White House coattails to an official, even a loyal one, who displeases him, or who is a constant magnet for bad press and contrary public opinion.”

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