By Mead Gruver, Associated Press
Removing bureaucratic obstacles to development on federal land can create jobs and offer hope to nearby communities, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Tuesday in hinting at long-term changes in store for federal agencies including the Interior Department.
Promising reorganization “on a scale of 100 years” but without offering specifics, Zinke said the Interior Department and other land management agencies need to better cooperate. Right now, agencies that evaluate the same project often end up providing conflicting opinions, he said at the Western Governors’ Association annual meeting in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana.
“Jobs matter. There’s a social cost of not having jobs. And we love environmental regulations fair and equitable, but it takes wealth to make sure that we can maintain those regulations and improve,” Zinke said.
The Interior Department has begun reviewing its practice of requiring developers to offset the harm of their projects by paying for conservation elsewhere, he said.
“Some people would call it extortion. I call it un-American,” Zinke said of that policy.
Zinke called for more offshore drilling, which he said can provide more than enough revenue to take care of an $11.5 billion maintenance backlog in national parks.
“There’s a consequence when you put 94 percent of our offshore off limits. There’s a consequence of not harvesting trees. There’s a consequence of not using some of our public lands for creation of wealth and jobs,” he said.
Large swaths of the West, including Alaska, belong to the federal government and are managed by agencies including the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
Zinke’s remarks resonate with many of the association’s 20 governors, 12 of whom are Republican.
“A lot of our public lands, you can use our public lands. Make sure that we do it right, make sure that a reclamation plan is in place. Make sure that communities living around those public lands have a chance, and a shot, at the American dream,” Zinke said.
Zinke also spoke of making certain that U.S. energy production is sufficient to offset energy imports and reduce the risk of international conflict.
Environmentalists weren’t buying it.
“Secretary Zinke’s call for energy dominance is a rhetorical ploy to justify turning over as much of our publicly owned assets to special interests in the oil, gas and coal industries as possible,” Nada Culver with The Wilderness Society said in a release.