The Department of the Interior has responsibility over vast amounts of wilderness owned by the American people, as well as for the management of relationships with tribal governments. To fulfill these responsibilities, the Interior Department needs a scientific understanding of the impacts of different approaches to land management.
The scientific foundation of the policies of the Department of the Interior took a crippling blow yesterday, as the United States Senate confirmed Ryan Zinke, Donald Trump’s choice to become Secretary of the Interior.
Last year, Zinke voted in favor of a legislative amendment that prohibited anyone in the government, including officials in the Department of the Interior, from even considering certain kinds of scientific data. The reason for this ban on science in government was that big fossil fuels companies found that scientific management was interfering with their ability to profit through the destruction of public lands.
Coal companies wanted to rip coal out of public lands, and then sell it for a profit. Oil and gas companies wanted to drill and transport volatile fossil fuels through pipelines across public land. Then, these companies wanted to sell the products to be burned, filling America’s air with pollution and releasing massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the air, accelerating climate change. Scientific analyses of these plans found them to be too dangerous to be approved.
Republican members of Congress like Ryan Zinke couldn’t challenge the results of the scientific analysis, but they had been re-elected to their positions with the help of big campaign spending by fossil fuels corporations. So, Ryan Zinke and 229 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives simply voted to prohibit government from even looking at scientific research when it interferes with the fossil fuels industry.
Any reasonable person can understand that anyone who refuses to consider scientific information simply because it doesn’t fit with their political ideology is unfit to service in positions of authority that depend on impartial review of scientific studies. Nonetheless, the U.S. Senate voted to close debate and move toward confirming Ryan Zinke to be the next Secretary of the Interior yesterday, in a roll call vote of 67 to 31.
In order for there to be 67 votes for Zinke, it couldn’t have been only Senate Republicans voting in favor of Zinke. In fact, 15 Senate Democrats joined Republicans in voting in favor of placing Ryan Zinke in charge of the Department of the Interior, despite his history of anti-science politics. These pro-Zinke Democrats were:
Michael Bennet, Christopher Coons, Catherine Cortez Masto, Joe Donnelly, Dianne Feinstein, Martin Heinrich, Heidi Heitkamp, Tim Kaine, Joe Manchin, Claire McCaskill, Christopher Murphy, Bill Nelson, Jon Tester, Tom Udall, and Mark Warner.