By Lena Moffitt, Sierra Club
Since its inception, the Department of the Interior has been entrusted with responsibly managing America’s public lands and waters and protecting them for the public and for future generations. Unfortunately, Ryan Zinke has made it clear that he believes his primary responsibility is making it as easy as possible for the fossil fuel industry to exploit America’s most cherished places for private financial gain.
Under Zinke’s leadership, Interior has spent the past year systematically working to open up more of our public places to oil and gas drilling, while also making drilling in these places less safe by rolling back commonsense safeguards.
Take Zinke’s approach to America’s public waters: In early January, the administration rolled out a draft offshore-drilling plan that would usher in the largest expansion of offshore drilling ever, expanding drilling into nearly every corner of America’s waters, including the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the Arctic. The plan was met with strong, bipartisan opposition from communities and elected officials.
Yet, as seems to be his M.O., rather than listening to the overwhelming consensus that Americans want their coasts protected from the dangers of drilling, Zinke instead took the opportunity to give one of his political allies, Florida Governor Rick Scott, a boost by announcing just a few days after the plan was released that Florida would get a special exemption from offshore drilling. Zinke, citing his undergraduate degree in geology, argued that Florida should be protected because of its “unique” coastline and the fact that its coastal communities are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver — which, of course, could be said about every other state included in the plan. Unfortunately for Zinke, this was widely recognized as a political stunt — and possibly in violation of federal law. Since then, Zinke has ignored other governors’ requests for similar treatment, and no other states have received exemptions from the plan. Amid all the controversy over this stunt, it’s not even clear whether Zinke’s exception for Florida will actually hold water. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) acting director Walter Cruickshank has testified to Congress that Zinke’s announcement was “not a formal action” and that Florida’s waters would in fact be considered for offshore drilling.
To make matters worse, as he pushes for this unprecedented expansion of offshore drilling, Zinke is simultaneously working to make drilling less safe by rolling back safety standards put in place after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 people and dumped millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
But it’s not just our coasts that are under attack by Zinke’s polluters-first agenda; our public lands aren’t safe either. In addition to eliminating or shrinking our national monuments, Zinke is also opening up the rest of our public lands to the fossil fuel industry.
Regardless of his claims to be a Westerner who loves our shared wild places, Zinke’s decision to end the federal coal-leasing moratorium once again proves he’s just a shill for corporate polluters. For far too long, coal companies have desecrated our public lands, ripping nearly 400 million tons of coal from them every year while polluting our clean air and water and cutting off water supplies for ranchers and damaging air quality in our communities.
These attempts to auction off our public lands to the fossil fuel industry have been paired with a rollback of other commonsense safeguards, such as the Bureau of Land Management’s rule requiring companies that frack on public lands to disclose what chemicals they’re using, and a rule that would have limited leakage of methane emissions (a greenhouse gas 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide during the time it remains in the atmosphere) from oil and gas operations on public lands. Thanks to these rollbacks, not only are more of our public lands open to extractive industries but they’re also being allowed to operate largely unchecked, emitting as much pollution as they like, regardless of the effect on our lands, public health, and climate.
In short, the Zinke approach to public land management has been more drilling and fewer safety precautions — whatever the cost to the American people, their coasts, and their public lands — as long as it means extra profits for the fossil fuel industry.
We can’t let Ryan Zinke sell off our coasts to the fossil fuel industry. Take action now and tell him to protect our coasts from the dangers of offshore drilling.