Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke steps down
On Dec. 15, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced his resignation.
His departure from office could perhaps be as notable as his first day on the job when the Navy Seal earned headlines for riding a horse across Washington’s National Mall to the Department of Interior.
However, unlike his jovial arrival into the nation’s capital, his exit is a bitter one as he endured 15 investigations during his two-year tenure in office.
In a tweet following his official resignation, Zinke wrote, “I love working for the President and am incredibly proud of all the good work we’ve accomplished together. However, after 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations.”
In his resignation letter, he cited “meritless and and false claims” and said that, “to some, truth no longer matters.” He added that the “vicious and politically motivated attacks” against him had “created an unfortunate distraction in fulfilling the agency’s mission.”
Despite rumors that Zinke was pressured by the White House to resign or be fired, President Donald Trump tweeted his praises saying the Interior Secretary, “Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure, and I want to thank him for his service to our nation. The Trump Administration will be announcing the new Secretary of Interior next week.”
Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt will serve as the Interim Interior Secretary while replacements are considered.
During his time in office, Zinke, age 57, often shared his love of hunting, fishing and the outdoors. The Navy Seal and former one-term Montana Congressman positioned himself as a “Teddy Roosevelt” Republican. In his role as Interior Secretary, Zinke was pro-business and supported the development of oil, natural gas and coal on public lands. Despite being warmly voted into office by the Senate with a 68 to 31 vote, his U.S. “energy dominance” position earned him both praise and criticism.
“Some people think conservation means forcing everyone off the land and eliminating businesses that utilize natural resources,” said Frank Falen, partner at Falen Law Offices in Cheyenne, Wyo. “However, 40 years of thinking like that is the reason so much of California has burned up, and why we have fire hazards in so many places. To me, Zinke was very conservation oriented and understood the importance of multiple use and wise use of the land. He was pro-grazing, energy, job creation and recreation.”
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), said in a statement, “Zinke has been a strong partner for Western states and for Alaska, in particular. After years of frustration with the Department, he came in and took a very different approach — he listened to us, built a great team, and worked with us to advance our priorities.”
Meanwhile, Jennifer Rokala, Center for Western Priorities executive director criticized Zinke saying, “Ryan Zinke will go down as the most anti-conservation Interior secretary in our nation’s history. Surrounding himself with former lobbyists, it quickly became clear that Ryan Zinke was a pawn for the oil and gas industry. We can expect more of the same from Acting Secretary David Bernhardt, but without the laughable Teddy Roosevelt comparisons.”
House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi added her two cents saying Zinke’s “staggering ethical abuses have delivered a serious and lasting blow to America’s public lands, environment, clean air and clean water.”
In a tweet, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) said, “Ryan Zinke was one of the most toxic members of the cabinet in the way he treated our environment, our precious public lands, and the way he treated the government like it was his personal honey pot. The swamp cabinet will be a little less foul without him.”
As Zinke leaves the post, Falen says the Interior Department will continue to operate as usual.
“Even as Zinke leaves, there is no signal that there will be a change in direction in the Interior Department,” said Falen. “The office will have the same mission, and the political appointees under Zinke will remain the same for now. Whoever his replacement will be will likely be someone who aligns with the previous course of the Interior Department.”
Rumors of Zinke’s replacement are just that, says Falen.
“At this point, it would be a total guess,” he said. “There are many rumors who would fill that spot. It seems Washington D.C. runs on rumors, but at this point, it’s all conjecture. From my understanding, Zinke is leaving because of unrelenting pressures placed on himself and his family. Although I’m not aware of what his future plans are, I imagine he’ll spend some time off until he decides what he wants to do. ”
At press time, the Trump Administration had yet to announce who might fill Zinke’s shoes. Miranda Green and Timothy Cama for The Hill listed the leading contenders for the role as the new Interior Secretary, which include Interim Secretary Bernhardt, Rep. Rob Bishop (Utah), Sen. Dean Heller (Nevada), Rep. Raúl Labrador (Idaho), former Rep. Cynthia Lummis (Wyoming) and Gov. Butch Otter (Idaho).
Ultimately, whoever lands the job will oversee 70,000 employees and the nation’s 640 million acres of federal land.