CONFIRMATION HEARINGS: Rep. Ryan Zinke, nominee for Secretary of the Interior

4 min read

This is a special view on the confirmation hearings provided by POPVOX interns from Brown University. We hope you enjoy and learn from their fresh perspective and front-row seat on Capitol Hill.

On Tuesday, January 17th, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a confirmation hearing for Secretary of the Interior Nominee Rep. Ryan Zinke. If confirmed, Zinke would serve on President-elect Trump’s Cabinet.

So who is Ryan Zinke?

Ryan Zinke currently serves as Montana’s At-Large Representative. He graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in geology and then entered the Navy, where he served as a Navy SEAL from 1986 to 2008. He became a member of Congress in 2015 and is the first Navy SEAL to ever serve in Congress.

What does the Secretary of the Interior do?

The Secretary of the Interior is the highest-ranking figure in the Department of the Interior, which has jurisdiction over monuments, national parks, mineral resources, Native American lands, U.S. fish and wildlife, conservation, and many natural energy sources. The Department of the Interior is sometimes referred to as “the Department of everything else” due to its wide-ranging responsibilities. If confirmed, Zinke will head up a department of 70,000 employees and control a budget of over $13.4 billion.

How do confirmation hearings work?

Senate Committees meet to question the candidate and to judge the suitability of the candidate for the nominated position. After the hearings, the Committee votes on whether or not they will refer the candidate to the Senate floor. If they do, the entire Senate then votes on the nominations. Here's a list of committee jurisdictions. Learn more about the Senate's role in the nomination and confirmation process, and catch up on other selections.

Who makes up the Energy and Natural Resources Committee?

The chair of the Committee is Sen. Lisa Murkowski [R-AK] and the Ranking Member is Sen. Maria Cantwell [D-WY]. The rest of the Senators come from across the country, although this particular committee is slightly more western-state leaning. Check if your member is on the Committee.

What happened in the hearing?

Although this hearing wasn’t as high profile as other confirmation hearings, many people showed up to watch the hearing, including one former president who was referenced often during the hearing.


Zinke, in his introduction, called himself an “unapologetic admirer of Teddy Roosevelt” and the views Roosevelt held on public lands and national parks. An avid hunter and fisherman, Zinke said that he was “humbled by the great responsibility of the position.” If confirmed, he said his three goals would be working with local communities to remove distrust of the government, getting rid of the $12 billion maintenance backlog in national parks, and ensuring that managers of public lands and park rangers have the right tools and resources to take care of the land.

Zinke declared that he is “absolutely” against transfer or sale of federal public lands. However, he is not opposed to drilling on public lands. Rather, he’s a proponent of “all-the-above” energy policy and said that it’s much better to produce energy in the U.S. than get it from overseas. Zinke acknowledged that Americans need natural lands to hunt, fish, and hike on but also believes America should be the “world’s leader in clean energy.”

When asked about climate change by Sen. Sanders [D-VT], Zinke broke with President-elect Trump, stating that it is “indisputable.” He also agreed that mankind is influencing climate change, but added that there’s “lots of debate on both sides” on the topic. He admitted that he’s not an expert but pledged to become “a lot more familiar” with the science. He referenced Teddy Roosevelt’s ideas of looking “a hundred years to the future” to when “our children’s children” will live in America and stated that addressing climate change is an essential part of that.

Many senators brought up specific public lands issues in their own states. Sen. Murkowski asked how Zinke’s approach would be different from the current administration’s in managing Alaska, where 60% of the land is owned by the government. Sen. Stabenow [D-MI] brought up Michigan’s $7 billion fishing industry and $14 billion boating industry. Sen. Flake [R-AZ] talked about the Colorado River Water Compact and its effect on Arizona. The sheer variety and uniqueness of different issues in the hearing, said Zinke, along with the gap between issues in eastern states vs. western states, was another example of how “one-size-fits-all” policy doesn’t work with the Department of the Interior.

Zinke wants to “make sure bureaucracy doesn’t grow” and give the states power to deal with land issues in the way that is best for their state. He advocated for “centralized planning, decentralized execution” and empowering people to deal with local issues locally. When asked by Sen. Wyden [D, OR] about how he would approach collaboration between federal and local government, Zinke said that planning needs “numbers and goals” and that all decisions “had to be based on science.” He also said that the Department needed to incentivize coming together with local government for planning, supported by how he pledged to visit Alaska, Nevada, Hawaii, Arizona, and Ohio by the hearing’s end.

When asked about the condition of Native American communities, Zinke agreed that conditions need to be improved and that the American government has interfered too much in Native American affairs. He laid out three objectives for doing so: granting reservations more sovereignty, helping improve health care, and helping improve education.

Sen. Duckworth [D-IL] and Sen. Stabenow [D-MI] brought up concerns about the sexual harassment problem in the National Parks Service (NPS), citing the President-elect’s controversial statements unearthed on a 2005 Access Hollywood tape. Zinke’s campaign had previously referred to these comments as “locker-room talk,” but he stated during the hearing that he had “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment and would “go out on the front line…to stamp it out.”  He referenced how the job of Parks Ranger has fallen in satisfaction and listed sexual harassment as one of several things he’s going to change to protect and improve the lives of NPS employees.

Zinke vowed to work with Congress to support the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), even under possible pressure from the President-elect to cut the fund’s support. “I’m a SEAL,” he said. “We don’t yield under pressure.”

So, what happens now?

What happens now is you let your senators know what you think of the nomination! Senators will start to vote as soon as the President-elect is inaugurated, so make sure your voice is heard before the vote.