Donald Trump’s transition team had heard that Americans were worried Trump was choosing psychologically unstable people with little administrative experience to become the leaders of Cabinet-level departments of the U.S. federal government. So, yesterday, Trump announced his choice of Ryan Zinke to become Secretary of the Interior. Zinke’s only experience in the federal government is a single two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
During that one term in Congress, Zinke posed for photographers crawling behind his desk holding a combat knife in his teeth. Yes, these are really photographs of the man Trump wants to become the next Secretary of the Interior.
Whether or not Zinke is psychologically stable enough to serve as a member of the President’s Cabinet, there are reasons to believe that he lacks a firm commitment to basic reality when it comes to government policy. Zinke has a habit of changing his acceptance of basic facts according to political convenience rather than a serious analysis of the information available to him.
In 2010, Zinke went on the record urging President Obama to take strong regulatory action to bring climate change under control. Over the next few years, the scientific evidence for the anthropogenic character of climate change grew even more firm, taking the anthropogenic model beyond any reasonable doubt. Yet, by 2014, Zinke had done a complete flip flop, denying that scientists had come to any consensus that climate change is caused by human activity.
What had changed for Ryan Zinke during that time? Zinke certainly didn’t conduct a sober analysis of scientific data to come to his conclusion. Back in the 1980s, Zinke got an undergraduate degree in geology, but never used that degree to build a career in science. Instead, he went into the military. Besides, geologists don’t study climate. So, Zinke doesn’t have the experience or the knowledge required to conclude that climatologists don’t know what they’re talking about.
What changed for Ryan Zinke is that he decided to run for Congress as a Republican. To make a successful campaign, Zinke knew that he would need the financial support of the fossil fuels industry, which provided hundreds of thousands of dollars both directly and indirectly to aid his campaign. In return, Zinke began making public statements claiming that scientists still haven’t figured out what causes climate change, and promoted the increased mining and burning of coal and oil.
In the two years he has spent in Congress, Ryan Zinke has been busy undermining measures that protect America’s air and water from pollution by the fossil fuel industry. He has voted in favor of granting special economic advantages to coal, oil, and gas companies, moved to kill efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, sought to spread outdated dirty energy sources around the world to make climate change even worse, voted for the extreme expansion of unsafe methods of mining, advocated the use of dangerous methods of coal ash storage, attempted to prevent American citizens from participating in government decisions about drilling and mining for fossil fuels in public wilderness, worked to eliminate protections for endangered species, and voted in favor of opening American rivers to increased contamination by fossil fuels corporations.
If he is confirmed as Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke will have the power to give specially discounted leases for mining and drilling in public wilderness to the very same companies that have financed his political career. Zinke’s top political contributor in his re-election campaign this year was Oasis Petroleum, a “company focused on the acquisition and development of unconventional oil and natural gas resources”.
That makes Zinke’s selection for the Department of the Interior yet another action that Donald Trump is taking to make the swamp of corruption in Washington DC deeper and more filthy than ever before.