What’s New with Ryan Zinke: Big Sky & the Arctic Refuge

Big Sky Resort and the Madison Glacial Range

Secretary Ryan Zinke with Rep. Steve Daines on March 8, 2017, a few days before Zinke attended Daines’s event at Big Sky Resort (Source: Twitter).

Big Sky Resort in southwest Montana is making headlines for a controversial visit made by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke back in March. Big Sky Resort is a winter haven for ski-lovers across the United States, part of the Madison Range, home to nine perennial ice features of snowfields and rock glaciers. In addition to being open for snow activity, the resort also welcomes weddings, conferences, and most recently, political campaign fundraisers meant to attract wealthy out-of-state lobbyists.

Since GlacierHub last covered the Secretary, Zinke now faces allegations of mixing political activities with official business while traveling outside of Washington, suggesting he wasn’t at Big Sky to admire the rock glaciers and snowfields.

Following the resignation of former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price over private-jet travel at the end of September, Zinke has come under similar scrutiny, as first reported by Politico on October 10. One of the multiple trips under political investigation includes his “Weekend in the Montana Mountains” at Big Sky Resort.

Rep. Steve Daines, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary Ryan Zinke ride horseback at Yellowstone National Park (Source: Twitter).

After spending Friday, March 17, riding horseback with park officials and Vice President Mike Pence at the nearby Yellowstone National Park, Zinke spent the evening and entirety of Saturday at a 2020 fundraising campaign for fellow Montanan GOP Senator Steve Daines. During this time, the Federal Election Commission did not list any reimbursement payments to the Interior for the events. Although Zinke wasn’t named on the invitation, his official schedule listed him as attending events throughout that weekend at Big Sky and flying back to D.C. on Sunday by private jet.

Other controversial trips include political fundraisers in the Virgin Islands, Anchorage, Alaska, and Las Vegas, Nevada, all while on official Interior business. Although Zinke isn’t the first Trump administration official to come under scrutiny for using government resources for official travel, his trips have certainly raised eyebrows of ethics officials for possible violations of the Hatch Act. Watchdog organizations have already asked the Office of Special Counsel to open a Hatch Act investigation to look into Zinke’s use of travel and political activities while in office. These organizations, including the Campaign Legal Center, question whether Zinke is focused enough on his day job given the amount of attention he has paid to fundraising campaigns. The Department of Interior did not respond to GlacierHub’s calls for comment.

Zinke’s Push for Resource Extraction on Public Lands in Alaska

Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3352: National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska in May 2017 (Source: Flickr/U.S. Department of the Interior).

But mixing political activities with official business haven’t been the only headlines Zinke has faced in past weeks.

On October 25, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and the Department of the Interior released their latest report explaining the “burdens” that “impede the production and transportation of energy resources.” The Interior has the authority to oversee energy resources produced on federal lands and waters, and Zinke intends to revoke many of the Obama-era regulations that protect environmentally-vulnerable regions of the country, including glaciers, from economic exploitation.

One of the regions under the Trump Administration’s radar is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). As GlacierHub reported previously, Zinke has long had his eye on this ecologically-rich glacial region for its potential price tag. In May, for example, Zinke signed an order with the intent of jump-starting energy production in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve (NPR-A), which includes the ANWR and in particular the 1002 area.

“American energy production benefits the economy, the environment, and national security. First, it’s better for the environment that the U.S. produces energy. Thanks to advancements in drilling and mining technology, we can responsibly develop our energy resources and return the land to equal or better quality than it was before,” Zinke said in a statement made on March 29 regarding President Trump’s executive order on energy independence. Proponents of preserving the ecological integrity of the region have expressed that drilling will damage an already fragile region.

However, despite the uneasiness of environmental groups, Zinke described how “developing our energy resources to grow our economy and protecting the environment are not mutually exclusive” in his latest report. He emphasized that revisiting and repealing “Obama-era job killing regulations” will ensure that public lands are being “managed for the benefit of the people” and in an environmentally responsible way. The considerations the Interior is taking to ensure the production is done in an environmentally-responsible manner remain unclear. As President Trump often states, “We’ll see what happens.”

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