Joel Clement: Secretary Ryan Zinke has shown contempt for the Department of Interior's mission and its employees
His priorities lie with President Trump and special interests, not the American people he should be working for, writes Clement
Editor’s Note: Joel Clement is an independent science, policy and climate change expert and former civil servant. He was a climate change policy adviser at the US Department of the Interior until July 2017, when he became a federal whistleblower, accusing the Trump administration of retaliating against him for his climate change work. In September 2017, he received the Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
Secretary Ryan Zinke, last week I turned in my US Department of the Interior credentials and reluctantly walked away from public service. Today, I call on you to do the same and resign as secretary of the Interior.
Since you were sworn in on March 1, you have demonstrated contempt for the agency’s mission and its devoted employees. As I described in my resignation letter, I quit my position because of your spectacularly poor leadership, reckless waste of taxpayer dollars and disregard for the dangers of climate change – all of which are putting American well-being and the economy at risk.
You and your deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist, have no strategic vision of your own and are dedicated to President Donald Trump’s special interests first, Americans last model. As Trump flunkies, you are eliminating anything the previous administration touched, you are marginalizing scientists and experts, and you are blithely disabling the agency so special interests can move in and snatch public lands out of the public’s hands.
DOI has a unique set of responsibilities in the federal family, and your resume of failure impacts every single facet of the DOI mission. You have shown contempt for the conservation mission by conducting a sloppy review of our treasured national monuments to score political points. Your review was of an arbitrary list of monuments and your recommendations to the President, captured in an error-filled memorandum to the White House, were seemingly based on an unclear and inconsistent set of criteria. And you conducted this review while hypocritically recommending a new national monument for Montana, where you hope to advance your political career.
Astonishingly, you’re also moving to undercut the Western sage grouse conservation plans that were so carefully developed by bipartisan federal, state and local partners across the West. Even Republican Gov. Matt Mead from Wyoming has expressed public concern over what you are trying to do. Unlike you, those partners understand that if that bird lands on the endangered list, Western economies will pay the price. For years, collaborators in the West have been working hard to prevent a conflict in which the sage grouse and its habitat require stringent protections that can impact local economies.
You have also been reckless with DOI’s resource leasing mission. You eliminated a rule that helped prevent oil, gas and coal companies from cheating American taxpayers on royalty payments. You canceled a moratorium on a failed coal leasing program that is also cheating taxpayers. And you had the audacity to cancel a study into the health risks of people living near mountaintop-removal coal mines after rescinding a rule that would have protected their health. If not for the intervention of a US District Court, you also would have suspended a methane rule that will save hundreds of millions of dollars, provide energy for American homes and restrict harmful methane emissions.
In addition to your conservation and resource extraction failures, you have left the imperiled Alaska Native villages of the Arctic to fend for themselves and you reneged on your day one promise to prioritize American Indian sovereignty by curtailing programs meant to serve American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Your failures will be amplified by climate change, and it’s not only the Alaska Native villages that are on the front lines now. Worried families sit in the path of devastating hurricanes, businesses in coastal communities are already experiencing frequent and severe flooding, fishermen along our coasts are pulling up empty nets due to warming seas, farming communities are being hit by floods of biblical proportions and medical professionals are scrambling to understand new disease vectors. Climate change is real and has consequences for Americans, our natural and cultural heritage, and our economy.
If you and President Trump continue to muzzle experts in science, health and other fields while handing over the keys to special interests, these consequences will be far more harmful. Harvey, Irma and Maria were monster storms made worse by climate change, but their damage was amplified exponentially by a lack of urban resilience, deregulation on steroids and an ongoing disregard for environmental justice. These problems will only grow worse if special interests maintain their grip on the agencies that are supposed to be looking out for Americans
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Working to undermine the agency you were charged with leading is not just a betrayal of those who work there; it is a betrayal of the Americans the agency serves. Americans deserve a secretary who will protect America’s natural resources rather than pander to corporate interests; they deserve a secretary who will rise to new challenges rather than rebuke civil servants; they deserve a secretary who will be frugal with the agency’s limited resources rather than fly private jets on at least three occasions and then hold fundraisers and photo shoots (a story you have called “a little BS”); they deserve a secretary who will foster American well-being rather than flatter his own political ambitions.
Secretary Zinke, you should resign effective immediately.