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WASHINGTON President-elect Donald Trump’s pick
to run the Department of the Interior, Representative Ryan Zinke
of Montana, said during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that
he would review President Barack Obama’s moves to limit oil and
gas drilling in Alaska and some other parts of the country if
“Yes,” he said in response to a question from Republican
Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska about whether he would review
drilling limits on federal land in her state as head of the
department. “The president-elect has said that we want to be
energy independent. I can guarantee you it is better to produce
energy domestically under reasonable regulation than overseas
with no regulation.”
“We need an economy,” he added.
The Interior Department oversees territories covering a
fifth of the United States’ surface from the Arctic to the Gulf
of Mexico. This comprises sensitive wildlife habitats, iconic
landscapes, rich deposits of oil, gas and coal and important
pasturelands for ranchers.
The former Navy SEAL commander, an avid hunter and angler,
emerged as a surprise pick to head the department, in part
because he has embraced federal stewardship of national parks,
forests and refuges. This diverges from the Republican Party’s
official position to sell off acreage to states that might
prioritize drilling, mining, ranching and forestry.
But he has also fought for increased energy development on
federal lands, a position that has worried conservationists but
which fits neatly with Trump’s vows to bolster the U.S. energy
sector by scaling back regulation and opening up more publicly
held land to development.
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, as it
proposed rules aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions from
energy production on federal land.
Obama’s Interior 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 as national monuments.
Zinke was the first of three Cabinet heads Trump has chosen
to oversee his environment and energy portfolio to face Senate
scrutiny this week.
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.
CLIMATE DEBATE NOT SETTLED
Zinke also said during his hearing that he believes that
humans contribute to global climate change but that there is
still debate over what should be done about it. “I do not think
it is a hoax,” he said.
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.
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.
He said, however, that “a preponderance” of U.S. federal
lands are better suited for “multiple use using best practices,
sustainable policies and objective science” – a nod to U.S.
industries that depend on access to public acreage.
As a first-term congressman, Zinke pushed to end the
coal-lease moratorium, saying it had resulted in closed mines
and job cuts, and he introduced a bill expanding tax credits for
coal-burning power plants that bury carbon dioxide emissions
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