Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will leave his position by the end of the year as he faces a growing list of investigations into his travel and political activity during his time.
President Donald Trump confirmed the reports in a series of tweets Saturday morning. He said Zinke “accomplished much during his tenure” and thanked him for his service. A replacement will be announced next week, the president added.
On Saturday afternoon, Zinke posted a statement on Twitter confirming that he was stepping down, citing the investigations he faced.
"I love working for the President and am incredibly proud of all the good work we’ve accomplished together. However, after 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations," Zinke said.
Zinke, a former Montana congressman and Navy SEAL, served in the role for almost two years. His deregulatory efforts were marked by a broader administrative move to consider energy production across a wide range of policy decisions.
For example, last week the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management announced flexibility for seven western states in managing greater sage-grouse habitat. The move was cheered by energy companies while environmental groups criticized it for prioritizing energy production over habitat conservation.
Zinke’s successor will require Senate confirmation, adding another to the list of cabinet-level appointees awaiting consideration. Trump’s nominee to be attorney general – William Barr – is also awaiting the confirmation process. Trump has also pledged to nominate EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to the official position, which would also require Senate consideration.
The candidates under consideration to replace Zinke include his deputy, David Bernhardt, and two Republicans who lost re-election bids this year, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, according to Bloomberg News.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., joined environmentalists in welcoming Zinke's departure.
“Ryan Zinke was one of the most toxic members of the cabinet in the way he treated our environment, our precious public lands, and the way he treated the government like it was his personal honey pot. The swamp cabinet will be a little less foul without him," Schumer said.
But the American Energy Alliance, the advocacy arm of the Institute for Energy Research, which promotes free-market energy and environmental policies, praised Zinke's actions to expand oil and gas development on federal lands.
"In the two years that Zinke has led the Department of the Interior, he has served the country in a way we haven’t seen from the federal government’s land use agency since the days of President Ronald Reagan," the group said. "Streamlining permitting under the National Environmental Policy Act, reforming regulations on methane venting and flaring, and reorganizing Bears Ears National Monument are just a few of his many significant contributions.
"Most importantly, Zinke has unleashed American energy potential by tapping into the vast resource reserves on federal lands and opening up previously unexplored areas to development."
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