Rep. Ryan Zinke could prioritize conservation in Trump’s cabinet

Grinnell Glacier, Ryan Zinke

These two photographs, courtesy of the USGS Repeat Photography Project, show the recession of the Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park, Montana.

Rep. Ryan Zinke could prioritize conservation in Trump’s cabinet

By Alex Amonette

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT)

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT)

Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke (R-MT) and I have several things in common. We both love Montana, we have undergraduate degrees in geology, support renewable energy, and agree that Native Americans’ culture and rights need to be respected. We also love our public lands; in fact, Rep. Zinke has taken stands against the sale of our public lands.

We also both know that, when it comes to climate change, ignoring it is like “playing Russian roulette.” In this 2015 interview with the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Rep. Zinke said, “Without question, the climate’s changing.” In the same interview, he said if you go to Montana’s Glacier National Park, you can “see the glacier recede while you eat lunch.”

Recreation and tourism are huge industries in Montana, but they are being threatened by the impacts of our changing climate. For example, this past summer, about 200 miles of the Yellowstone River were closed for two weeks due to low flows, high temperatures and a fish-killing parasite. Local angler shops, fishing guides, small businesses, restaurants, and hotels suffered losses in revenues. The chairman of the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission pointed to climate change as the culprit and called on all Montanans to unite to solve this problem.

Rep. Zinke knows these climate-change-induced struggles first hand, as a representative for Montana. Now, he could be taking his conservationist stance and awareness of climate change into President-elect Trump’s cabinet.

Rep. Zinke steps onto the national stage

Last month, Rep. Zinke was tapped by Trump to be the Secretary of the Department of the Interior. The DOI “uses sound science to manage and sustain America’s lands, water, wildlife, and energy resources, honors our nation’s responsibilities to tribal nations, and advocates for America’s island communities.”

If confirmed after today’s Senate hearings, Rep. Zinke will join an organization that seems to understand the threat climate change poses just as he does. The DOI’s summary of climate change states, in part, “The glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park are melting so quickly, they’re expected to disappear in the next two decades.”

He and his potential new department are not alone. Rep. Zinke would also join Trump’s Defense Secretary nominee General James Mattis, who knows climate change poses a threat to our national security. Also on the Trump team is Art Laffer, a former economic advisor to President Ronald Reagan who now advises President-elect Trump. Laffer advocates a revenue-neutral carbon tax, following free enterprise principles of accountability.

In an April 2016 guest column for The Missoulian newspaper, Rep. Zinke wrote, “I often tell people I’m a Teddy Roosevelt conservationist. Like Teddy, I believe our lands are worth cherishing for the greater good. While there is a lot that separates folks as Republicans and Democrats, there’s also a lot that binds us together as Montanans and Americans.” Roosevelt, also a Republican and our 26th President, set aside the world’s first wildlife refuge and preserved many of the forests and national parks we all take for granted.

An evolving relationship

If Rep. Zinke is confirmed as Interior Secretary, we hope he will keep in mind what he’s heard from Americans he’s worked with as a representative—including CCL volunteers. CCL volunteers and MT constituents met with Zinke’s energy aide in Washington, DC in June 2015 and 2016. We had a lively and enthusiastic discussion about renewable energy in Montana. We laid out the path to getting there and creating jobs: the Carbon Fee and Dividend.  

CCL volunteer Kathy Masis recounts her meeting with Rep. Zinke at a 2015 Montana breakfast in D.C. “He asked me, ‘What brought you to Montana?’” she remembered. “I told him it was the Indian Health Service and working with the Tribes on reservations. Some of my work related to substance abuse. He expressed concern for the suffering in the communities affected by this. I said, ‘Where the worst problems are, the best people are.’ He said, ‘Thank you, I never saw it that way.’ I felt this was a genuine compassion, that he is approachable, and we connected.”

If Rep. Zinke is confirmed to lead the DOI, we hope he will bring that compassion to the fight against climate change, where there are huge opportunities. For example, there are about 490,000 people, out of a population of approximately 1 million, who are employed in Montana. There are about 1,300 coal mining jobs and by contrast, approximately 42,000 work in recreation and tourism. The Solutions Project estimates that there could be about 19,000 “40-year” jobs by 2050 in Montana if it transitioned to “100% wind, water, and solar for all purposes (electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industry).” This type of economy-boosting energy independence could be attained not just in Montana, but in our nation.  

Montana’s CCL volunteers are ordinary Americans who also love our public lands and national parks. We want every child in America, for generations to come, to enjoy the wonders of Glacier and Yellowstone. We are farmers, ranchers, businesspeople, anglers, hunters, doctors, and outdoor people. And we hope that as Interior Secretary, Rep. Zinke will support carbon pricing legislation as a way to help preserve the natural beauty, wildlife and wonders of Montana and our whole country.

Alex Amonette
Alex Amonette is a freelance technical and grant writer/editor, lives in cattle and sheep country, and raises vegetables and hay.