Together We Stopped Ryan Zinke
Thanks to activists across the country who refused to be silenced, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke resigned from office amid public outcry over his scandals. After two years of environmental attacks by this crony-filled administration, Trump’s corrupt cabinet members are finally facing the consequences of their actions. Ryan Zinke has now followed in the footsteps of former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt: leaving under the weight of his accumulating misdeeds.
Since being confirmed by the Senate in March 2017, Zinke got right to work rolling out Trump’s anti-environment, anti-community, pro-industry agenda. Within two short years, Zinke had the Interior Department doing the bidding of Big Oil by dismantling protections for our public lands and rolling back environmental and safety regulations.
During his tenure in office, Zinke worked to hand our public lands and waters over to corporate polluters, disregarding the devastating effects on local communities and public health. He sought to destroy national monuments with mining – notably shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments at the behest of the oil and coal industries in the biggest rollback of protections for public lands in U.S. history. He announced plans to open over 90% America’s coastlines to oil drilling. He took massive steps towards decimating the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and its Porcupine Caribou Herd, which Gwich’in people have relied on for thousands of years. And he disproportionately silenced climate scientists, career staffers and Native Americans at the Interior Department.
Aside from his horrific record of destroying the lands and waters he was entrusted with protecting, Zinke will also be remembered for exploiting his public office for personal gain. He managed to rack up 17 official investigations into his misuse of funds and potential corruption. Notably, Zinke used tax dollars for a vacation with his wife, mixed work travel with Republican campaign events and entered into a shady land deal with the chairman of Halliburton — which has been a major beneficiary of Zinke’s public lands rollbacks.
After it came out that Zinke may have been using position to personally profit, Friends of the Earth became the first group to call for his firing. Nearly 150,000 of our members signed a petition urging Congress to fire him immediately. We visited Zinke at industry speeches and flyered outside of the Interior Department to make our voices heard. Friends of the Earth members, activists and volunteers delivered thousands of petitions calling for Zinke to go to their members of Congress. And we highlighted his lack of transparency by filing Freedom of Information Act requests and then litigation to force Interior to turn over documents related to ethics and Zinke’s attacks on our national monuments. We digitized Interior’s visitor logs and worked with journalists to call out his corruption.
Following the mounting news stories on Zinke’s potential criminality and lack of ethics, and fear of what Democratic oversight would look like, Trump announced Zinke’s resignation. By refusing to let Zinke’s behavior be swept under the rug, we were able to hold him accountable and make our voices heard.
Thanks to the work of Friends of the Earth members, activists and volunteers, Zinke’s days of plundering our lands and enriching himself and his friends are over — yet the toxic legacy of his actions remains. We cannot let this administration continue to exploit our public lands and waters to benefit corporate polluters. House Democrats must dig deep into the corruption that Zinke left behind and hold him, his successor and the Interior Department accountable for handing the agency over to the fossil fuel industry.