Senate approves Zinke’s nomination as next Interior Secretary

The US Senate approved President Donald J. Trump’s nomination of Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) to be Secretary of the Interior by 68 to 31 votes on Mar. 1 as several Democrats joined Republicans in affirming the selection.

The US Senate approved President Donald J. Trump’s nomination of Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) to be Secretary of the Interior by 68 to 31 votes on Mar. 1 as several Democrats joined Republicans in affirming the selection. Oil and gas associations immediately welcomed the news. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said in floor remarks immediately before the vote that Democrats’ concerns were unfounded over his colleague on the state’s congressional delegation’s possibly taking regulatory short-cuts and not upholding the public’s interest in federally administered land and waters.

“He will finally restore balance in the use and management of public lands,” Daines said.

Most Senate Democrats did not accept that assurance. “Unfortunately, I'm not convinced that Congressman Zinke will be able to moderate the Trump administration’s extreme views on exploiting our public lands,” Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Minority Member Maria E. Cantwell (Wash.) said. “I’m not sure he will be able to stand up to the president and protect the public interest required to manage our public lands for the benefit of all Americans—not just the oil, gas, and mining companies and their commercial interests.”

Energy and Natural Resources Committee member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) cast an affirmative vote in the full Senate on Mar. 1 after abstaining from the committee’s vote on Zinke’s nomination on Jan. 31 and voting “not present” when it subsequently moved the matter to the Senate floor for consideration.

“After several discussions, I received an assurance that as Secretary of the Interior, Rep. Zinke will focus on doing his job, which includes protecting our special places and managing the forests already within the Interior Department’s control, instead of engaging in senseless reorganization of bureaucracies,” Wyden said.

Confirmation welcomed

“As the nation’s largest landlord and strongest advocate for our public lands and natural resources, the head of the Interior Department plays a critical role in ensuring a fair and balanced approach to both energy development and conservation,” Independent Petroleum Association of America Pres. Barry Russell said.

“While often pitted against each other over the last 8 years, these efforts to support the economy and protect our environment work hand in hand every day across the country,” Russell said.

National Ocean Industries Association Pres. Randall B. Luthi, meanwhile, said, “Secretary Zinke brings the promise of dawn after 8 years of darkness for the offshore energy industry.”

Luthi said that NOIA and its members hope Zinke will promote policies that both maintain access in current offshore development areas and increase the offshore areas available for sensible oil and natural gas exploration.

“As the prior administration left office, it withdrew vast swathes of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans from leasing consideration, leaving almost 94% of the US Outer Continental Shelf off the table before even really looking to see what resources may lie there,” he noted. “[Its] answer to meeting the growing world energy demand appeared to be based almost solely upon renewable energy.”

NOIA hopes the new secretary will begin work immediately on a new 5-year program offshore leasing program that addresses “the recent illogical and shortsighted Atlantic and Arctic withdrawals,” he said. “We also hope he will reestablish the department’s commitment to safe and sensible seismic surveying to determine the extent of our nation’s oil and gas resources in those areas.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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