The seven biggest whoppers in Ryan Zinke’s Wall Street Journal interview
President Trump’s Interior Secretary has a problem with facts
In an administration that’s famous for its love of “alternative facts,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is quickly earning a reputation as one of the most egregious purveyors of misleading statements and outright lies. (We’ve counted more than 30 in his 19-page memo to President Trump on national monuments.)
Over the weekend, while most news outlets were covering the $12,000 private flight Secretary Zinke booked after giving an inspirational speech to his biggest campaign benefactor, the Wall Street Journal instead gave Zinke a glowing puff piece in the editorial pages.
In the interview, WSJ editorial board member and columnist Kimberley Strassel repeated verbatim a stunning number of falsehoods from Zinke, covering everything from national parks to oil and gas companies to the federal budget. Here are the biggest whoppers:
1) Zinke on funding national parks:
“I’ve only ever thought there are two things our government should fund absolutely: our military and our parks system. The rest is up for discussion.”
Secretary Zinke stands by President Trump’s budget proposal, which includes a devastating 12% cut to the National Park Service. In NPS’s own words, adopting Zinke’s budget would cost 1,242 full-time equivalent staff, requiring national parks to close campgrounds and other facilities, while reducing service across the country.
2) Zinke on fair returns from oil and gas:
“If you are doing commercial work on our public lands, the No. 1 stakeholder is the American public, and they need a fair return.”
Secretary Zinke just gave oil and gas companies a sweetheart deal on new offshore leases, cutting the royalty rate they pay by a third. Zinke also rescinded 2016 royalty reforms, reopening a loophole that lets coal, oil, and gas companies sell publicly-owned resources to themselves at below-market rates. That single rule change will cost taxpayers $75 million a year.
Instead, Zinke has created a new Royalty Policy Committee which is packed with companies and trade groups that will benefit from his already-weakened royalty rules. The committee holds its first meeting on Wednesday.
None of these decisions are designed to give the American public a fair return from the oil, gas, and coal that they own.
3) Strassel on hunting and fishing in national monuments:
“On Mr. Trump’s order, the department has reviewed 27 national monuments, which by virtue of that designation can be off-limits to development and to activities such as hunting and fishing.”
Recreational hunting and fishing was already explicitly protected in all 27 of the national monuments Secretary Zinke reviewed.
4) Strassel on national monument designations:
“His review found past administrations had scooped up private land and relied on bogus historical ‘objects’ — in one case, a World War II-era test bombing crater — to justify new designations.”
No national monument designation can “scoop up” or otherwise take private land. The president has no authority to take private land from landowners, nor did Zinke’s review find any cases of this happening.
Furthermore, in 1920, the Supreme Court ruled that the Grand Canyon, at 800,000 acres, was an object that was legally protected with the Antiquities Act. There’s nothing “bogus” about landscape-scale monuments.
5) Strassel on Zinke’s travel:
“But he spends much of his time on the road, exploring federal lands on horseback, in planes and on plows.”
Strassel neglects to mention the $12,000 private plane Secretary Zinke booked after giving a motivational speech at the behest of his largest campaign benefactor, and attending a GOP political event before going snorkeling in the Virgin Islands during a government-funded trip. The secretary’s travel is now being investigated by the Interior Department Inspector General.
6 ) Strassel on drilling permits and park funding:
“His department is trying to prove its good faith by clearing backlogged permit applications and streamlining future projects. Mr. Zinke is also implementing a strictly market-based approach to energy plays, rather than subsidizing costly renewables…. The Obama administration’s crackdown on energy leases slowed royalties and left the Interior Department with an $11.5 billion infrastructure backlog in the national parks alone. In 2008, Mr. Zinke says, the department pulled in $18 billion in offshore revenue.”
This is actually five whoppers in one: (1) There is no backlog — the time it takes to process drilling applications did not go up or down significantly over the last decade — nor was there (2) a crackdown under the Obama administration. Oil companies are sitting on nearly 8,000 approved but unused drilling permits, and they thrived on public lands during the Obama years.
Furthermore, it’s oil and gas companies that are (3) subsidized on public lands: they pay significantly less than market rates for extracting publicly-owned oil and gas. Regarding (4) revenue in 2008, that year was an extreme outlier, when the price of oil reached $145 a barrel. It’s around $50 today. If oil prices jumped back up to $145, revenue would increase as well.
Finally, (5) oil and gas royalties have never funded national parks maintenance. Half of the royalties go back to states to mitigate the impacts of extraction, and the rest goes into the nation’s general fund, where Congress can appropriate it at will.
7) Zinke on the big picture:
“We’ve got to start looking at our lands in terms of complete watersheds and ecosystems, rather than isolated assets.”
The landscape-scale national monuments Secretary Zinke is attempting to shrink are the size they are because of the need to protect complete watersheds and ecosystems. He is encouraging President Trump to erase those protections, turning them back into isolated assets.