Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Resigns Under Pressure

(Photo: Ryan Zinke at a briefing for the Ferguson fire in July 2018. Credit: Kari Greer/ USFS)

by | Dec 17, 2018

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned on Saturday as he faces a number of federal investigations into his business deals, policies, and travel, the New York Times reported. President Trump announced the departure on Twitter, saying that Zinke will be leaving at the end of this month.

Zinke oversaw mineral extraction and conservation on roughly 500 million acres of public land, Julie Turkewitz and Coral Davenport noted in the New York Times. “He had become the subject of several federal investigations, one of which his department’s top watchdog has referred to the Justice Department, a potential step toward a criminal investigation,” they wrote.

Those investigations include one involving conflict of interest that the top watchdog for the Interior Department has referred to the Justice Department. Davenport reported in October that this is a sign that the federal government is considering a criminal investigation into Zinke’s actions.

“Zinke played a leading part in the president’s campaign to roll back environmental regulations and promote American energy development,” Jennifer Jacobs and Jennifer A Dlouhy reported for Bloomberg. “The Interior Department moved to auction off more oil leases, ended a moratorium on new sales of federally owned coal, and repealed mandates governing drilling.”

At the same time, Jacobs and Dlouhy wrote that Zinke’s agency also continued work to advance renewable power, which culminated in a record-setting sale last Friday of offshore wind leases near Massachusetts.

National Monuments on the Chopping Block

Ryan Zinke, a former congressman and Navy SEAL, became known for leading environmental rollback policies. Last year he reviewed more than 20 national monuments and was expected to propose shrinking or transferring several of them state ownership. In response, Patagonia spent nearly $700,000 on TV and radio ads in those states trying to persuade Zinke to “protect these national treasures.”

In late August of last year, Zinke recommended to Trump that certain national monuments be reduced in size. Opponents of the national monuments included local residents from grazing, timber production, mining, hunting and fishing, and motorized recreation industries, he said at the time.

Shortly after that, the mining company Asarco — and the Arizona mining industry as a whole — recommended that Zinke shrink the Ironwood Forest National Monument outside of Tucson by 11,000 acres. Asarco sought to mine more copper there, saying they were losing more than $145 million without that access.

“Mr. Zinke’s resignation, rather than an end to his pro-fossil fuel policies, quite likely signals a passing of the playbook,” Turkewitz and Davenport wrote in the Times. They noted that David Bernhardt, Zinke’s deputy, is a former oil lobbyist who is expected to become the department’s acting head.

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