Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke joined Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Ed Perlmutter in Denver on Monday to announce a new partnership between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Colorado School of Mines placing a new facility at the university.
Along with representatives from the School of Mines including university president Paul C. Johnson, Zinke signed a proclamation Monday at the Denver Athletic Club to create a new facility on the university’s campus.
Zinke said the partnership builds on his and President Donald Trump’s focus on critical minerals. Zinke sees it as a callback to USGS’ original work.
“We have to look at embracing science, technology, the best people, the best science, the best practices in order to make sure we increase reliability, safety, environmental stewardship, to make sure we have a prosperous country,” Zinke said.
The new partnership will bring USGS scientists to the school’s campus in Golden in a new 158,000-square-foot facility built by the university. It will house USGS staff and Mines staff, faculty, students and researchers, creating what Johnson said is an “incredibly unique educational environment.”
The facility will cost $120 million to build, according to a university spokesperson, with more than 150 USGS employees expected to work in the new building. The school has been working closely with USGS for decades and currently houses the National Earthquake Information Center.
Johnson said the facility will study areas important to both Colorado and the nation, and tackle development of resources on earth and in space. It will provide students with and job opportunities, as well as access to new equipment.
“This expanded presence at Mines will capitalize on our collective expertise to address the availability of mineral and energy resources, environmental challenges and geo-environmental hazards,” Johnson said.
Gardner said it was an honor to have Zinke in Colorado, calling Monday’s announcement particularly important.
The plan has been in the works for years. Gardner said he believes they will be proud of the work that takes place in the new facility. He lauded the school’s work in addressing environmental challenges in the state.
“This will be a model, I think, around the country, for work that we can do and where we take private sector and we take our universities and we take our government in a research setting to cooperate and get things done,” Gardner said.
Zinke, who is originally from Montana, said he spoke to previous Interior Secretary and former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar about making sure USGS includes to field science study as part of its work. Zinke believes the new partnership will help recruit more talent.
“We do a lot of grants and we do a lot of portfolio management,” Zinke said. “We’ve kind of lost our way in field science. And so to partner with this institution, that has experts in field science, helps me recruit.”
Perlmutter said the partnership “is a project that makes a lot of sense” for Mines and USGS and provides a new space for USGS.
Before Monday’s presser started, a man called out to Zinke about the reported firing of the Deputy Inspector General.
Reports surfaced last week that Mary Kendall, the Deputy Inspector General at the Department of the Interior, had been replaced. The move was questioned by skeptics who pointed out that Kendall is responsible for overseeing four investigations into Zinke’s activity.
Zinke’s senior advisor, Heather Swift, said in an email Monday that Kendall “is still on the job and has been for almost 10 years. Despite media reports, there was no plan to change that.”
The man on Monday said a few words, including, “I think that looks pretty bad,” in references to the alleged firing before being escorted out of the room.
“Debate is so great in our country. But being rude is never appropriate,” Zinke said in response.
Zinke is among a handful of President Trump’s cabinet members to visit the metro area in the last five months.
Last month, U.S. Department of Homeland Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen was in Englewood for an elections training exercise, while U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson visited Denver and Aurora this summer.