Matt McDaniel

3 minute read

President-Elect Donald Trump has nominated Montana’s only Congressman, Representative Ryan Zinke, to serve as Secretary of the Interior. Zinke, who served as a Navy SEAL from 1986 to 2008, was elected to Montana’s at-large single Congressional district in 2014. Zinke’s tenure in the House has put him squarely in line with the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

Zinke publicly withdrew as a delegate at the GOP nominating convention in 2016 when a plank in the Party platform was added that would require only certain public lands to be transferred to state control. At the time, Zinke noted that he endorsed better management of federal land rather than an overt transfer to state control. This opposition is generally seen as outside of the normal Republican orthodoxy and makes Zinke’s pick to head the Interior, tasked with the oversight of federal lands, fairly interesting. Zinke even went as far as to oppose a GOP spending bill that would have authorized the sale of some Federal lands.

As a member of the House, Zinke has voted in favor of developing America’s energy resources, including expanding oil and coal mining in the United States. Again, given the conservation, or at least the preservation intent of the Department of the Interior, Zinke presents a departure from the naturalist-focused Obama Administration. However, Zinke has crossed the aisle to support some Democrat-led initiatives with respect to conservation

From a baseline analysis perspective, it should be noted that Zinke was an early supporter of Mr. Trump and weathered the attacks and the criticisms that came with that support. Representative Zinke campaigned with Mr. Trump and Mr. Zinke’s wife is on the President-Elect’s transition team. Zinke has been outspoken about the need for the Federal government to maintain control of land rather than piecemeal the same back to the States. All-told, the Interior oversees about one-fifth of all land in the United States. Zinke will play a crucial role in the permitting of oil and gas pipelines as well as offshore drilling initiatives.

Zinke has called for a prudent approach with respect to man-made climate change. Specifically, Zinke does not want to see the Montana coal industry severely disrupted by over-regulation. However, Zinke has noted that there is a shift occurring the in climate and has called for investment in an “all-of-the-above” energy policy.

It is unlikely that Zinke, despite his veering away from some points of Republican orthodoxy will face considerable headwinds in his Senate confirmation. It is a strange pick, strategically, for Republicans, because Zinke was seen as a very formidable candidate to take back a Senate seat in 2018 from Montana’s Jon Tester. It remains to be seen what Republican will step up into this challenger role.