Trump Interior nominee would consider more drilling on federal land

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By Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON Representative Ryan Zinke of Montana,
President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of
Interior, on Tuesday said he would consider an expansion of
energy drilling and mining on federal lands but would ensure
sensitive areas remain protected.

The former Navy SEAL sought to outline a measured approach
to the job of managing America’s national parks, forests and
tribal lands during a four-hour Senate confirmation hearing that
was mostly cordial, lacking some of the hot-tempered grilling
that has marked other sessions to vet Trump’s cabinet nominees.

“Yes,” he said in response to a question from Republican
Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska about whether he would review
drilling curbs imposed by President Barack Obama’s
administration in her state, home to vast petroleum deposits
both onshore and beneath Arctic waters.

“I can guarantee you it is better to produce energy
domestically under reasonable regulation than overseas with no
regulation … We need an economy.”

But he added he was committed to protecting sensitive
wildlife habitats and to keeping federal lands under federal
control to ensure they are preserved for future generations, so “my granddaughter’s children can look back and say that we did
it right.”

The Interior Department oversees territories covering a
fifth of the United States’ surface from the Arctic to the Gulf
of Mexico, including rich deposits of oil, gas and coal and
important pasturelands for ranchers.

Zinke, an avid hunter and angler, emerged as a surprise pick
to head the department in part because he has embraced federal
stewardship of public land, diverging from the Republican
Party’s official position to sell off acreage to states.

But as a congressman he has also fought for increased energy
development, a position that has worried conservationists and
which fits neatly with Trump’s campaign vows to bolster the U.S.
energy sector by scaling back regulation.

Over the last eight years, the Interior Department has
sought to limit industry access to federal lands and played a
key role in Obama’s agenda to combat climate change by curbing
greenhouse gas emitting industries.

Under Obama, the department banned new coal mining leases on
federal property early in 2016. More recently the agency placed
parts of the offshore Arctic and Atlantic off-limits to drilling
and declared national monuments that protect large parts of Utah
and Nevada from development.

Zinke said he believed Trump could “amend” Obama’s moves to
declare millions of acres of federal property as national
monuments. But he said that any move Trump made to rescind a
designation would immediately be challenged.

He did not comment directly on whether he would seek to
reverse Obama’s federal coal-lease ban but said he believed coal
plays an important part in the U.S. energy mix and has
previously pushed to end the moratorium.

Zinke was the first of three Cabinet heads Trump has chosen
to oversee his environment and energy portfolio to face Senate
scrutiny this week. All three have opposed Obama’s measures to
combat global climate change by targeting carbon dioxide

Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency,
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, was to testify on
Wednesday, and Trump’s choice for Energy secretary, former Texas
Governor Rick Perry, was to testify on Thursday.


Zinke told committee members that he believes humans
contribute to global climate change – a statement that appeared
to clash with Trump’s views. Before running for the White House,
Trump called climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to
weaken U.S. businesses, a position he has since defended.

“I do not think it is a hoax,” Zinke said.

But he added that he believed there is still debate over the
degree to which humans have an impact, and what should be done
about it, adding that regulations could sometimes hurt jobs
without helping the environment.

He said, for example, he would support efforts by the U.S.
Congress to cancel recent regulation imposed by the Interior
Department’s Bureau of Land Management aimed at preventing leaks
of methane – another gas scientists blame for climate change –
from oil and gas installations.

In his opening remarks, Zinke struck a moderate tone, saying
that he recognizes that some federal lands require strong
protection. He also called himself an “unapologetic admirer of
Teddy Roosevelt,” a former Republican president who pioneered
public land conservation.

Zinke also said he would tackle a multi-billion dollar
backlog in maintenance at national parks and promised to ensure
greater sovereignty for tribes.

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