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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Environmental Groups Have Mixed Reactions To Zinke's Interior Nomination

The new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke met with the Senate Indian Affairs Committee this week to help identify Native American-related priorities for the new Trump administration.

Environmental organizations reacted Wednesday to reports that Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke is President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of the Interior. The Interior Department and other U.S. agencies control almost a third of Montana’s land and even more of the vast amounts of coal, oil and natural gas that lay beneath it.

Zinke has been critical of federal land management and has advocated for more development of coal, oil and natural gas. However he's also an outspoken supporter of keeping public lands in federal hands.

Scott Christensen is the conservation director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He’s cautiously optimistic about Zinke’s nomination:

"While we haven’t seen eye to eye with him on everything, we have seen some areas where he’s able to work with us and support us. That’s one area where we’d like to see him stand strong in the future and continue pushing back against schemes to sell off and transfer public lands in the West."

Zinke split with his party over transferring the ownership of federal lands to the states. The Republican party supports that idea, and Zinke resigned his seat as a delegate to the party’s national convention over the issue this year.

"You know he prides himself on being a Theodore Roosevelt Republican," says Land Tawney. "What Theodore Roosevelt did when he helped set aside this large public land estate that we have and so it’s important for him to continue this legacy. And he said he wants to do that and we expect him to do that."

Tawney is the CEO of the Missoula-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. He says that Zinke’s nomination could be a boon to hunters and anglers in the state, in part because the congressman supports the Land and Water Conservation Fund which uses federal oil and gas royalties to buy and protect properties. 

However, Zinke has been critical of federal land management, and advocates for more development of coal, oil and natural gas. This is good news for the state’s coal industry, says Chuck Denowh of the pro-coal group Count on Coal Montana:

"The coal that’s managed by the Department of the Interior accounts for about half of the coal production in Montana," Denowh says. "In the Obama administration, the Department of the Interior placed a moratorium on new coal leasing which if that moratorium is held in place in the future which we don’t expect it to be, if it were it would result in the loss of about $40 - $50 million per biennium."

"We’re not naive to the fact that President-elect Trump has signaled that there’s going to be expanded energy development, likely on public lands," says Alex Boian, the Vice President of Government Affairs for Outdoor Industry Association, the Boulder, Colorado-trade group for outdoor recreation companies. 

"What we’re saying is, take a balanced approach, use good management policy to make sure that you’re taking into account that public lands and waters are the infrastructure of the outdoor recreation economy of this massive economic driver."

Boian says the Outdoor Industry Association is pleased that Zinke might be become interior secretary — they supported his House campaign against Democratic nominee Denise Juneau. However, Boian says the group is concerned about Zinke’s views on climate change. Zinke has said he believes that the climate is changing, but has questioned mankind’s impact on it.

Matthew Koehler is the executive director of the Wild West Institute. He’s not happy about Zinke’s nomination and says he’s disappointed by the response the congressman has received from other conservation groups in Montana:

"Personally I don’t feel that simply because Rep. Zinke has stated that he would not completely sell off or give away America’s public lands, that this somehow makes Rep. Zinke a huge public lands champion or a Teddy Roosevelt Republican. How low has the conservation movement set the public lands champion bar that they would allow Ryan Zinke to sneak over it given his track record and his voting record?"

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