Zinke says he would move land management authority out of Washington

US Rep. Ryan Zinke said he would work to have more federal land management decisions reached outside of Washington, DC, as a product of closer collaboration with states and stakeholders if he is confirmed as the next US Secretary of the Interior.

“From a Navy SEAL position, we need fearless rough-riders who are not afraid to develop policies,” he said during his Jan. 17 confirmation hearing before the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “One problem we’ve had the past few years is that we’ve had people in charge who are afraid of being sued. I believe we need to work more collaboratively with the people who are being affected by our decisions so that the policies and regulations are better.”

Republicans on the committee reacted warmly to that idea. Several said they believed it would be a welcome change from the Obama administration’s approach. “Instead of seeing us as the state of Alaska, our current president and secretary seem to see us as ‘Alaska, the National Park and Wildlife Refuge’—a broad expanse of wilderness, with little else of interest or value,” Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (D-Alas.) said.

She said the Obama administration has attempted to ban energy development nearly all of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, withdrawn tens of thousands of square miles of water outside of those two areas, attempted to convert the non-wilderness 1002 area in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s Coastal Plain, which Congress set aside for its energy potential, into de facto wilderness, canceled lease sales, closed half of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and imposed costly, extralegal mitigation requirements.

“We need an Interior Department that will restore public access to public lands, allow us to produce our resources, and help us restore throughput in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System,” Murkowski said.

Zinke said he believes federal resources can be managed effectively because the National Environmental Policy Act exists as a policy backbone. “But we also need to recognize their value to the economy,” he added. “I think we need to be prudent. I think we periodically need to review policies and make sure we’re doing them right.”

Three immediate tasks

In his opening statement, he said he believed there are three immediate tasks at DOI: to restore trust by working with, instead of against, local communities and states; to prioritize the estimated $12.5 billion of maintenance and repair backlog in US National Parks; and “to ensure the professionals on the front line, our rangers and field managers, have the right tools, right resources, and flexibility to make the right decisions that give a voice to the people they serve.”

But in response to questions by committee member Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Zinke said he would not support any transfers or sales of public land to states or counties, and that he believes the global climate is changing, humanity has had an influence, and discussions should consider ways to deal with it.

“The Obama administration used the Department of Interior as a department of preservation. I believe the people who are most interested in stewardship of our resources are the ones who live closest to them,” said John A. Barrasso (R-Wyo.). He added that plans to introduce a disapproval resolution under the Congressional Review Act to reverse the US Bureau of Land Management’s venting and flaring rule.

“A lot of the waste that’s taking place could be addressed by having more infrastructure,” Zinke said. “That’s why so much gas is being flared. I would like to see more energy produced in America under proper management than let it be produced overseas where these would be absent.”

When Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said he hears collaboration being discussed increasingly across the West, Zinke reiterated his support for it. “We have to reward getting together and collaborating is that it takes a lot of effort and resources. The frustration comes when you’ve finally come up with a plan after several years, it’s either ignored or legally challenged,” he said.

“We’re losing a lot of BLM employees because they basically have had it. They should be given incentives to work more with local communities,” Zinke said. “I think collaborative efforts work and generally produce a better outcome. I believe we’ve been too heavy-handed as a national regulator, and there’s a separation between those living in the land and those who are managing it.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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