President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Interior Department is expected to be confirmed easily by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday morning as the White House seeks to increase fossil fuel production from federal lands.
U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke said in his confirmation hearing last month he would consider an expansion of energy drilling and mining on federal lands but would ensure that sensitive areas were protected.
The former Navy SEAL commander is an avid angler who is popular with many outdoor enthusiasts, including Trump’s son Donald Jr.
However, many environmentalists are concerned about his zeal for exploiting coal and other fossil fuels. As a one-term Congressman, Zinke worked to boost mining, including supporting an effort to end a coal leasing moratorium on federal lands, where 40 percent of U.S. coal is mined, mostly in Wyoming and Montana, his home state.
If the Senate confirms Zinke, he will head an agency that employs more than 70,000 people across the country and oversees more than 20 percent of federal land, including national parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite.
Zinke needs only a majority of votes in the 100-member chamber and is expected to get most, if not all, of his fellow Republicans, who lead the chamber, and some votes from Democrats. In January, six Democrats joined 16 Republicans to pass Zinke’s nomination out of the Senate energy panel.
The White House is expected to issue an executive order soon reversing former President Barack Obama’s temporary moratorium on coal leasing on U.S. lands, which is part of a wider review of the program.
Many Democrats oppose Zinke’s support of fossil fuels.
“I’m not sure he will be able to stand up to the president and protect the public interest … required to manage our public lands for the benefit of all Americans – not just the oil, gas and mining companies and their commercial interests,” said Senator Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate environment committee.