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Trump taps Montana congressman Ryan Zinke as Interior secretary

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 12/13/2016 Juliet Eilperin
Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke arrives at Trump Tower in New York on Monday. © Kena Betancurkena/AFP/Getty Images Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke arrives at Trump Tower in New York on Monday.

President-elect Trump has tapped GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke, who has represented Montana’s at-large congressional seat for one term, to serve as secretary of the Department of the Interior, according to an individual with first-hand knowledge of the decision.

Zinke, who studied geology as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon and served as a Navy SEAL from 1986 to 2008 before entering politics, campaigned for his House seat on a platform of achieving North American energy independence. He sits on the House Natural Resources Committee as well as the Armed Services Committee.

A lifelong hunter and fisherman, the 55-year-old Zinke has defended public access to federal lands even though he frequently votes against environmentalists. This summer, he quit his post as a member of the GOP platform-writing committee after the group included language that would have transferred federal land ownership to the states.

“What I saw was a platform that was more divisive than uniting,” Zinke said at the time. “At this point, I think it’s better to show leadership.”

Trump also opposes such land transfers, but the provision made it into the official Republican platform.

Zinke recently criticized an Interior Department rule aimed at curbing inadvertent releases of methane from oil and gas operations on federal land as “duplicative and unnecessary.”

“Clean air and clean water are absolute top priorities when we talk about responsible energy development, however the final rule issued by the Obama administration does nothing to further protect our resources,” he said in a statement. “This rule is a stark reminder that we need to invest in infrastructure projects like the Keystone pipeline, so we don’t need to flare excess gas.”

During his time in Congress, Zinke has established a 3 percent voting score with the League of Conservation Voters. But he has broken ranks with the panel’s GOP majority on occasion, opposing a measure by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) that would have allowed each state to buy up to 2 million in U.S. Forest Service land to boost timber production.

Land Tawney, president and CEO of the Montana-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said in an interview Tuesday described Zinke as “a straight shooter” who has established credibility with outdoors enthusiasts in the state.

“He really prides himself on being a Theodore Roosevelt Republicans, and he lives that a little bit more than other people,” Tawney said.

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership President Whit Fosburgh, whose hunters and anglers group has worked with Zinke, said in an interview that it would be “very supportive of Ryan Zinke” as a Cabinet nominee.

“He’s shown courage and commitment to public lands and conservation, and someone we think would be an excellent secretary of Interior,” Fosburgh said.

While some Democrats are likely to oppose Zinke’s nomination, the pick does provide the party with one bit of good news: It removes a possible challenger to Sen. Jon Tester, the Montana Democrat who likely will face a tough reelection bid in 2018.

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