When Donald Trump nominated Ryan Zinke for Interior Secretary, it was first thought to be to praise Zinke’s military service to our nation. After all anyone who is a 20-year Navy veteran in service to our country in Vietnam and elsewhere gets special gratitude.
Many were hopeful that despite the fact that Trump is stacking his Cabinet with wealthy corporate elites, Zinke—who reportedly is a great admirer of the conservationist president Teddy Roosevelt—would be different. But watching his confirmation hearing and hoping to see the nominee commit to protecting our treasured public lands quickly faded. In its place many were disappointed by Zinke’s dependence on “alternative facts,” the unfortunate rule in the young Trump administration.
For example, Zinke recommended the alternative fact of a “war on coal,” and promised to use the powers of the U.S. Department of Interior to recover the fortunes of this lagging fossil fuel. Coal mining on federal lands not only places our lands and waters and wildlife at risk, but coal power plants are the largest drivers of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which scientists endorsed as causing catastrophic climate change.
Coal’s economic fortunes are lagging because it is getting overwhelmed in the marketplace by cheaper and cleaner competitors—led by renewables, natural gas and relentless investment in energy efficiency. Market forces—not regulation—are accountable for coal’s drop.
STEPS TO AID
The steps Zinke implied he’d take to aid coal—revoking the 2016 moratorium on new coal mining on public lands and preserving strange accounting schemes that allow mining companies to extract coal at below-market prices, thereby robbing taxpayers of our fair share of royalties—can provide only a handful of mining companies with subsidized right to use to coal, momentarily helping their sagging bottom lines at the expense of growing the threats to our air, water and climate.
Economic changes can be disturbing to exposed populations and wreak havoc on hard-working communities. Politicians in support of coal country can manufacture political boogeymen and promise an era that will never return again, or they can talk about the benefits of a clean energy transition and the tens of thousands of jobs it brings. Instead of extolling the virtues of moribund coal, Zinke should have told the committee how these communities can become the center of wind and solar manufacturing, and businesses and homes can move to installing solar panels on their roofs. That’s the jobs and economic revival rural America needs.
SIDED WITH COAL COMPANIES
Instead, Zinke sided with the bankrupt coal companies and their monopoly utility allies. Some services, with management styles enshrined with state utility commissions, lack the insight to efficiently respond to changing market dynamics. They remain obliged to supply chains that are outdated leading them to believe that they must continue to stick with coal, economics be damned.
DIDN’T GO WELL
Zinke’s testimony doesn’t bode well for those who want public lands safeguarded with sustainable use for explorers and sportsmen alike, and seek prioritization of clean air, drinkable water, species protection, and a future safe from climate change against wasteful coal mining.
What we didn’t hear from Zinke during his confirmation hearing is whether he will lead an Interior Department that prioritizes sustainability and, or whether he will kowtow to powerful mining interests that threaten our environment. Let’s hope that for our sake and the sake of future generations, Zinke will start relying on the truth to guide him.
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