President-elect Donald Trump is expected to name Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers to lead the Interior Department.
The five term Republican from eastern Washington serves as the chair of the House GOP Conference. She is a vice chair of Trump’s transition team and the highest ranking woman in GOP leadership. She formally met with Trump on November 20.
If confirmed by the Senate, McMorris Rodgers would lead a department with 70,000 employees and a $12 billion budget which manages federal lands for both preservation and energy and mineral development, controls offshore drilling and oversees national parks.
The move would make her the point person on public lands energy development, which is something that Trump has said that he wants to expand. Trump opposes the Obama administration’s moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands. In September, he proposed a “top-down review of all anti-coal regulations issued by the Obama administration.”
The Trump transition team website said that he “will encourage the production of [fossil fuels] by opening onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters.”
His Interior Department pick goes hand in hand with his pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, who is a noted friend of the fossil fuel industry and staunch opponent of President Obama’s environmental policy, having opposed him at virtually every stage.
During a speech this week, the President-elect said that he would follow the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt and “conserve and protect our beautiful natural resources for the next generation including protecting lands.” And on the campaign trail, he said that he opposes transferring federal lands to states because of what seems like bizarre reasoning: “I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold.” His statements seem at odds with his coal and fossil fuel policy.
McMorris Rodgers has voted in favor of expanding fossil fuel development on public lands and in federal areas off-shore. She opposes efforts to change the royalty rates on federal coal mining, something pushed hard by Obama’s Interior Department, and voted for a GOP budget which would allow the sale of public lands to mining companies, clearly at odds with Trump’s reasoning for not transferring public lands to the states.
In fact, McMorris Rodgers appears to be against the federal government owning any lands that are not directly being used. In the past, she has introduced legislation to require congressional approval before the president can designate a national monument, and a bill directing the Bureau of Land Management to release public lands it holds that it has deemed not suitable for wilderness status.
She also believes that there is a correlation between government ownership of land and unemployment rates. In a 2012 speech to the Society of American Foresters, she said “it is no coincidence that many of the counties with the highest unemployment rates in the country are those which are surrounded by federal forests.”
She also holds some fringe economic positions. “By removing lands from private ownership — and thus, from local municipal tax rolls — the government stifles locally-driven development and takes rural communities more dependent on Washington D.C.,” she said in her 2012 speech. Her views are consistent with someone with heavy rural roots and without any sense of big picture views of the country.