Interior Secretary Zinke to Resign Amid Flurry of Investigations

He spent his time at the agency propping up the fossil fuel industry and attacking our public lands.

Chip Somodevilla/AP

Amid a wave of ethics investigations, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that he will resign, ending a tumultuous tenure at the agency. “Ryan Zinke was wholly unqualified to lead the Department of Interior,” says Ana Unruh Cohen, managing director of government affairs at NRDC. He lacks the ethics, integrity, and the dedication to the agency’s core mission to act as a steward for America’s public lands, wildlife, and natural resources.”

Early on, the Montana native painted himself as a conservationist akin to President Teddy Roosevelt—but Zinke’s policy decisions told a different story. In line with the Trump administration’s environmental rollback agenda, Zinke repeatedly propped up the fossil fuel industry, attacked independent science, and weakened public land protections. He shrank Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments by 85 percent, opened up nearly all our shores to risky offshore drilling, and ramped up efforts for mining and drilling that threatened sensitive ecosystems and imperiled wildlife. “Instead of protecting our natural heritage, Zinke acted like the chief lobbyist for the oil and gas industries,” Cohen says.

Zinke also formed the misnamed International Wildlife Conservation Council, appointing a panel of hunting enthusiasts to advise on conservation policy, and proposed one of the largest rollbacks of our bedrock Endangered Species Act in history.

The resignation comes at the heels of the heated midterm election—and just a few months after the departure of former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt. Zinke now faces numerous investigations, including a suspect land deal with the oil services company Halliburton and the censorship of a National Park Service report on climate change. One of the probes was recently sent upstream to the U.S. Department of Justice, indicating there may be a criminal investigation.

Zinke's replacement will be announced next week, but next in line is the Interior's deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, yet another former lobbyist for the oil and gas industry. “If his successor also puts the interests of polluters ahead of safeguarding public health and the environment,” Cohen says, “he or she will encounter the same wall of resistance.”

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