By Andrea Germanos / Common Dreams

    Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., was confirmed Wednesday as interior secretary in the Trump administration. (Gage Skidmore / flickr / cc)

The Senate on Wednesday voted to confirm Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) to head the Department of the Interior.

The 68-31 vote included yeas from 16 Democrats and one Independent, Sen. Angus King of Maine.

Zinke’s views climate science, voting record, campaign donations, and statements on future fossil fuel extraction on federal lands had riled climate and environment groups who say he’s not fit to oversee the nation’s lands and natural resources and enforce the Endangered Species Act.

“During his confirmation hearing, the Republican congressman promised to review Obama-era actions limiting oil and gas drilling in Alaska,” CNN reports, and he “emphasized his support for drilling, mining, and logging on federal lands,” as the New York Times wrote. Reuters adds:

As a one-term Congressman, Zinke worked to boost mining, including supporting an effort to end a coal leasing moratorium on federal lands, where 40 percent of U.S. coal is mined, mostly in Wyoming and Montana, his home state.

While Zinke described himself as “an unapologetic admirer of Teddy Roosevelt,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) shot back, saying, “You can’t be a Roosevelt conservationist if you sell off public lands.”

Ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) added: “I’m not convinced that Congressman Zinke will be able to moderate the Trump administration’s extreme views on exploiting our public lands. I’m not sure he will be able to stand up to the president and protect the public interest … required to manage our public lands for the benefit of all Americans—not just the oil, gas, and mining companies and their commercial interests.”

With Zinke as Interior Secretary, said executive director May Boeve, “Once again, the Trump administration is stacking their cards in favor of the fossil fuel industry.”

“Zinke is another climate science-denier with ties to Big Oil who won’t lift a finger for real climate action. His agenda will put communities in danger and, if the coal moratorium is lifted, would spell disaster for the climate,” she continued.

Conservation group Center for Biological Diversity also noted in a statement Wednesday:

During his two years in Congress, Zinke earned just a 3 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters and voted against protections for endangered species 100 percent of the time, including opposing safeguards for the African elephant, gray wolf, sage grouse, and American burying beetle.

“If Democrats want to know why their base is frustrated, this shameful vote is a good illustration of how out of touch some senators are,” said Kierán Suckling, the center’s executive director.

Friends of the Earth is calling on constituents to hold Zinke-confirming senators’ feet to the fire and say to them: “You are now responsible for the actions that Ryan Zinke will take as Secretary of the Interior. I plan to hold you accountable.”

The Democratic senators who voted in favor of Zinke are:

Michael Bennet (Colo.)
Sherrod Brown (Ohio)
Chris Coons (Del.)
Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.)
Joe Donnelly (Ind.)
Martin Heinrich (N.M.)
Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.)
Tim Kaine (Va.)
Joe Manchin (W.V.)
Claire McCaskill (Mo.)
Chris Murphy (Conn.)
Bill Nelson (Fla.)
Jon Tester (Mont.)
Tom Udall (N.M.)
Mark Warner (Va.)
Ron Wyden (Ore.)

Andrea Germanos is a staff writer at Common Dreams.

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