Ryan Zinke is Donald Trump’s racist, corrupt, climate-denying, public-lands-defiling Secretary of the Interior — And it’s time for him to go. It’s time to #FireZinke.
And it’s not just me saying so: When Scott Pruitt resigned, there were 16 active investigations into his corrupt actions and abuse of taxpayer funds. Zinke faces 14 federal investigations right now, so he could well be next.
But just like with our #FirePruitt campaign, Zinke isn’t going to just resign without a push. And Trump is only interested in loyalty to himself and the fossil fuel industry. He’s never fired anyone for corruption or bribery (how could he, given his own self dealing?). So, once again, we’re teaming up with a big coalition of progressive groups to pressure Congress to investigate, and if necessary Fire the Secretary of the Interior. Sign on now to support us.
Zinke’s corruption and crimes against the planet are vast, and complicated at times. I said Zinke is racist, corrupt, climate-denying, and public-lands-defiling. Here’s why:
Zinke is a Racist
It’s important to remember that one reason Trump likes Ryan Zinke so much is that they are both “birthers” who alleged that president Obama was not born in the U.S. – a racist lie that’s common to officials in this administration.
In a hearing about oversight of historic sites that used to be Japanese internment camps as historic sites Zinke told Japanese American Congresswoman Rep. Colleen Hanabusa “Oh, konnichiwa.” Hanabusa had been asking Zinke about the sites in relation to her own grandfather’s detention. He defended himself by first asking reporters “How could ever saying ‘good morning’ be bad?” and later by saying he has “friends that were Japanese families.”
But Zinke’s most racist attacks might be reserved for Indigenous peoples and Native Americans. It’s bad enough that Zinke cut tribal governments out of the decision to gut the Bears Ears National Monument — a substantial reversal from the Obama-era process that created the monument. But when an indigenous woman dared to question him about his Bears Ears process, Zinke stepped towards her aggressively and told her to “be nice” in a distinctly not-nice manner.
Nor is his prejudice restricted to official land decisions. Only 10 percent of DOI staff identify as indigenous or Native American (too few given that the Bureau of Indian Affairs is a part of DOI). But when Zinke cleaned house and reorganized the Department, one third of the senior staff targeted for reassignment were Native Americans. When that clearly racist decision prompted an investigation, Zinke told staff that “diversity isn’t important.”
But for all his own prejudice, Zinke loves to question other people’s citizenship and loyalty to America. His team has defended use of the term “anchor babies”, he told a fossil fuel event that “I got 30 percent of [my] crew that’s not loyal to the [US] flag.” And when a protester tried to ask Zinke a question about climate, he responded: “You know what? You haven’t served and you don’t understand what energy is. I’d like to see your child have to fight for energy.”
Zinke is Corrupt
Here’s the thing, there are a LOT of smoking guns around Ryan Zinke when it comes to corruption. Just like Scott Pruitt the question is less “how can we prove Zinke is corrupt?” Than “is there any decisions Zinke has made that doesn’t benefit his own family, friends or benefactors in the fossil fuel industry?”
The most blatant example is probably the land deal Zinke’s personal foundation, headed by his wife, struck with the head of Halliburton – which donated more than $23,000 to Zinke’s campaigns – that included space for a microbrewery he has always wanted. Not at all by coincidence, the land deal went through just as Zinke and the DOI were approving a whole slew of decisions that benefited Haliburton from opening up more of our coast to drilling to rolling back safety standards for offshore drilling.
Oh and that offshore drilling plan? Only one state was exempted from Zinke’s proposal to open more than 90% of our coastlines to drilling. That was Florida, where key Trump ally Rick Scott is running for Senate and an investigation indicates that Zinke’s teams orchestrated a hasty meeting and press conference in the Tallahassee airport – a possible violation of federal campaign rules, as well.
But there are lot of examples of blatant corruption at DOI: From all the fossil fuel companies that have donated to Zinke, and now have lobbyists running the DOI; To Zinke’s secret meetings with fossil fuel executives and lobbyists; To his “Royalty Policy Committee”, which is supposed to suggest how much mining and drilling companies have to pay for access to public lands and waters, but Under Zinke is stacked Fossil fuel executives and has recommend payments that are only fraction of their value; To his shady relationship with Whitefish Energy, a two year old company from his hometown with only two full time employees, that somehow won a $300 million dollar contract to restore power in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria (they failed, and people died as a result).
We could go on and on, but we won’t do so here. We’ll just recommend you to the excellent coverage in The New Republic and at the website Department of Influence, created by the Western Values Project.
Zinke is a Climate Denyer
Like racist Birther-ism, denial of Climate change is almost a calling card for the Trump Administration. But Zinke has been especially effective and destructive at wielding the anti-science, pro-fossil fuel line:
There have been numerous documented incidents of the DOI and the National Park Service removing climate change research or references to sea level rise from official reports and websites. And Zinke eliminated climate change from DOI’s strategic plan and other plans because that was “inconsistent” with Trump’s energy goals.
He’s also made it personal: One of the 14 investigations into Zinke involves his reassignment of climate scientists. The most famous is whistleblower Joel Clement, the former director of the Office of Policy Analysis who had overseen research into climate impacts for years, and was reassigned to a job collecting royalty payments from fossil fuel companies in apparent retaliation.
Most recently, while wildfires were burning out of control across California, Zinke blamed environmental terrorists and said we need to increase logging – directly contradicting common sense, good science, and the policy of CalFire first responders.
Zinke destroys Public Lands
Zinke swore up and down that he would never sell public lands for private profit in his confirmation hearing. But the DOI preferred proposal for gutting Grand Staircase Escalante included a plan to sell off 1,600 acres – including some parcels that would be sold to corrupt, anti-environment Utah state representative Mike Noel. Zinke backed off that plan, but it wasn’t the first time. He’s also pushing to cut the Bears Ears national monument by 1.15 million acres and open both monuments to fossil fuel extraction and uranium mining.
And in case there was any doubt about who Zinke is working for, it’s not you, me, science or indigenous communities who hold these lands sacred. Zinke proposed nearly tripling fees for some national parks; His plan to gut Grand Staircase Monument would destroy many dinosaur fossil discoveries; His plan for Bears Ears ignores Native American input that they hold these lands to be sacred; and his plan to fast track seismic testing and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), puts the Gwich’in people and other subsistence hunting and fishing communities in rural Alaska at risk.
Why right now
That was a lot of reasons why it’s time to #FireZinke – but I just want to give one last short reason why we should take action right now:
Zinke is vulnerable, and he Trump know it. In addition to the 14 investigations, some Democrats in Congress are demanding answers. So far, they’ve been blocked by Republicans loyal to the Trump administration.
But if the election changes who’s in charge of key committees in the House, Zinke could face months of excruciating hearings and inquiries into each of the items tagged above, and many more. That’s how we got Pruitt to resign earlier this year. And we can do it again if we act together – right now, before the election.
Will you help? Sign here to call on Congress to #FireZinke now, and we’ll make sure your name and signature are delivered before the election. We’ll also keep you up to date on protests, actions, and lobbying activity near you that can hold Zinke and the rest of Trump’s team accountable.