Ryan Zinke’s Rocky, Scandal-Ridden Year at Interior

This is part four in a blog series exploring Secretary Zinke’s systematic efforts to undermine protections for public lands and sell out wild places to dirty fuel interests. Zinke must not be allowed to hide behind his horse, but must face the full opposition of the American public. Read part one, part two, and part three.

Ever since he was sworn in, Ryan Zinke has led unprecedented attacks on our public lands and waters, making it his mission to sell out these treasured places to corporate polluters. When he isn’t busy rigging his fishing rod backwards, Zinke has taken every possible opportunity to use his position to enrich himself and his friends at American taxpayers’ expense. It’s been a rocky year for this wanna-be cowboy -- let’s take a look back at some of the low-lights:

  • Zinke was connected to a shady deal awarding a $300 million contract to a two-person company from his hometown. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico’s power authority gave a $300 million no-bid electrical reconstruction contract to Whitefish Energy. The company, a firm of just two employees, just so happened to be from Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, MT and used to employ Zinke’s son. An investment firm that owns a major stake in the company is also reportedly run by a donor to Trump's presidential campaign. The shady deal was later canceled in the wake of widespread outcry, and investigations by congress, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI.

  • He went rogue with a move so egregious it even embarrassed Donald Trump. In November, the Fish and Wildlife Service, overseen by Zinke, announced that it was rescinding an Obama administration ban on the import of elephant trophies. The move sparked immediate public outrage and Trump quickly reversed the decision. Just last week, Trump said in an interview that he thought overturning the ban was a “terrible” decision and noted that it was made by a “very high level government person,” leaving many to conclude that Zinke was at fault.

  • Zinke has a habit of lavish travel at taxpayer expense. Last summer alone, Zinke spent tens of thousands of dollars flying around Washington, D.C., in taxpayer-funded helicopters, including for a horseback ride with Mike Pence. In a separate incident, he tapped Interior’s wildfire preparedness funds for a nearly $40,000 helicopter tour of Nevada. American taxpayers also spent over $12,000 for Zinke and his staff to fly home from Las Vegas on a private jet owned by oil and gas executives. An investigation by Interior’s Inspector General over these abuses was stymied because Zinke conveniently hadn’t kept records of this taxpayer-funded travel.

  • His cozy relationship with the fossil fuel industry isn’t limited to air travel. Zinke has dismissed concerns over whether or not a department staffer -- and the daughter of a longtime Peabody Energy executive -- had recused herself from matters relating to the coal company.

  • Zinke wasn’t honest about his financial interests. It was recently revealed that Zinke is a shareholder in PROOF Research, a private Montana company that manufactures and sells firearms and advanced weapons materials, a financial interest he failed to disclose when he was nominated for his position last year. The omission has raised concerns about the company’s access to Interior -- in fact, PROOF Research executives had the opportunity to meet with Zinke and his top aides last spring to discuss opportunities for the government to buy the company’s products.

Ryan Zinke may dream of being a modern day Teddy Roosevelt, but his tenure at Interior has proven him to be nothing more than a shill for corporate polluters who can’t help but get his hand stuck in the cookie jar.

Don’t let Zinke sell off our treasured public lands to the oil and gas industry. Take action now and tell utilities to do their part by not buying dirty fuels from our national monuments!