He emphasized Trump’s commitment to fossil fuels while disregarding renewables and the need for climate change action.
By Bobby Magill / Climate Central
January 18, 2017
During his confirmation hearing Tuesday, Interior secretary nominee Ryan Zinke emphasized the incoming Trump administration’s vow to recommit America to fossil fuels development while disregarding renewables and the need to act on climate change.
Zinke said climate change is not the hoax Trump has said it is, but he falsely claimed the science around it is uncertain, and said that federal energy policy, which determines how the Interior Department manages energy and public land, should heavily favor coal.
If confirmed, Zinke, a second-term congressman from Montana and former Navy SEAL, would oversee all the nation’s national parks and more than 500 million acres of federal public lands, mostly in the West. He would be responsible for all the coal mining, fracking and oil drilling on public lands and waters off of all U.S. coastlines, and for permitting all new offshore wind power development.
Trump vowed during his campaign to breathe new life into America’s coal industry, which he said has been hit too hard by environmental and climate regulations. In reality, coal is in decline mainly because of cheap natural gas, which electric power companies are beginning to use more than coal to generate electricity.
“The war on coal, I believe, is real,” Zinke said. “All-of-the-above is the correct (energy) policy. Coal is a great part of that energy mix. I’m also a great believer that we should invest in research and development on coal — because we know we have the asset — to make it cleaner and better. We should lead the world in clean energy technology.”
Coal is the world’s largest single source of carbon pollution driving climate change. To make it “clean,” all the carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants would have to be captured and stored permanently, preventing it from ever reaching the atmosphere. That technology is in its infancy, and it is unnecessary if other energy sources such as wind, solar and natural gas are used to generate electricity.
But given Zinke’s statements Tuesday, renewables seem likely to be shunted aside for more fossil fuels. Zinke said he’d revisit the Obama administration policy closing most of the Arctic Ocean off the north coast of Alaska to oil drilling. He said he’d also reexamine an Obama moratorium on coal development on federal lands, which was put in place a year ago while the government studies the climate impacts of coal development.
Throughout the hearing, Zinke questioned the science showing that climate change is driven by burning fossil fuels, that it could bring about water scarcity, influence the spread of catastrophic wildfire, and melt glaciers in the national parks he would oversee.
“The climate is changing,” Zinke said, adding that he believes that because he watched Glacier National Park’s Grinnell Glacier melt while he ate lunch there one day. “Man has had an influence. That is undisputable as well. Where there is debate is what that influence is and what we can do about it.”
Blackfoot Glacier and Jackson Glacier in 1914 and 2009. They used to be joined as a single glacier but are now split in two because global warming has melted the ice away. Credit: E.C. Stebinger/Glacier National Park (left). Lisa McKeon/U.S. Geological Survey (right).
He said the U.S. Geological Survey, a scientific agency in the Interior Department, should do “objective” climate science to help clear up the debate.