President-elect Donald Trump has picked Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke to serve as secretary of the Department of the Interior, according to an individual with firsthand knowledge of the decision.
Zinke studied geology as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon and served as a Navy SEAL from 1986 to 2008 before entering politics. He previously served as a member of the Montana Senate, representing Senate District 2 from 2009 to 2011. He was a member of the House Natural Resources Committee as well as the Armed Services Committee.
The 55-year-old Republican has defended public access to federal lands even though he frequently votes against environmentalists on various issues. This summer, Zinke quit his post as a member of the GOP platform-writing committee after the group included language that would have transferred federal land ownership to the states.
“What I saw was a platform that was more divisive than uniting. At this point, I think it’s better to show leadership,” Zinke said at the time.
Zinke recently criticized an Interior Department rule aimed at curbing inadvertent releases of methane from oil and gas operations on federal land saying it was “duplicative and unnecessary.”
“Clean air and clean water are absolute top priorities when we talk about responsible energy development, however, the final rule issued by the Obama administration does nothing to further protect our resources,” he said in a statement. “This rule is a stark reminder that we need to invest in infrastructure projects like the Keystone pipeline, so we don’t need to flare excess gas.”
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership President Whit Fosburgh, whose hunters and anglers group has worked with Zinke, said in an interview that it would be “very supportive of Ryan Zinke” as a Cabinet nominee.
“He’s shown courage and commitment to public lands and conservation and [is] someone we think would be an excellent secretary of interior,” Fosburgh said.
Zinke, who has been endorsed by the Outdoor Industry Association, has embraced that sector of the state’s economy.