WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2017 - Restoring Americans’ trust in federal land management agencies will be at the top of Ryan Zinke’s priority list if confirmed as Interior Secretary, the Montana congressman told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday.

“I fully recognize that there is distrust, anger, and even hatred against some federal management policies,” he said. “Being a listening adversary rather than a deaf adversary is a good start.”

On a more substantive question, however, Zinke distinguished himself from President-Elect Donald Trump, who has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by China. “I do not believe it’s a hoax,” Zinke said when asked by Sen. Bernie Sanders about the issue.

“The climate is changing,” Zinke said. “That’s undisputed.” He said that as a regular visitor to Glacier National Park in his home state, he has seen glaciers recede in his lifetime, adding that “man is an influence” on the climate. But he said the question is, how much of an influence, and what can be done about it?

Zinke repeatedly called himself a proponent of an “all of the above” energy development strategy and indicated he would be ready to end a moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands. “Coal is certainly a great part of our energy mix,” he said.

“It is better to produce energy domestically under reasonable regulation than watch it produced overseas with no regulation,” he said.

Questioned by various senators about public lands, Zinke said he supported full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and said he was “absolutely against transfer or sale of public land.” The nominee also dismissed his support for a House bill earlier this month making it easier to transfer federal lands to states.

“I think it’s a shot across the bow that we have to do something,” he said of the bill, noting that it would change House rules but that “it has no weight unless it’s executed.”

One of Zinke’s main themes was the importance of listening to local and state representatives. For example, on use of the Antiquities Act to create National Monuments, he said, “I think the state should have a say.”

Although the Antiquities Act does not include language allowing the president to negate a monument designation, Zinke said, “It’ll be interesting to see whether the president has the authority to nullify monuments.”

Asked about the greater sage-grouse, which is the subject of land management plans across public lands throughout the West, Zinke said, “You need to know the numbers. What’s the goal? The goal needs to be scientifically and objectively based.”

“Everyone loves sage-grouse, everyone understands we’ve got to protect the species,” he said. But the Interior Department needs to work in partnership with state and local partners to forge solutions, he said.

“Management decisions should be based on objective science,” added Zinke, who has a degree in geology from the University of Oregon and was a Navy SEAL for 23 years.

He also committed to taking another look at BLM’s recently published stream protection rule, designed to stem pollution from coal mines.

“All of us should agree that we want clean water,” he said. But he said the stream protection rule was a case where “one size doesn’t fit all. I think, quite frankly, we can do better.”


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