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Rep. Zinke Chosen To Head Interior, Published Reports Say


Donald Trump has chosen first-term Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana to be his secretary of the interior. That's according to multiple news sources. If confirmed, Zinke would take over one of the most closely watched and controversial posts in the cabinet. He would be in charge of managing some 500 million acres of federal public lands and close to 400 national parks and monuments. NPR's Kirk Siegler joins us now from Laramie, Wyo., where he's been reporting about public lands issues facing the new administration. Good morning, Kirk.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So Congressman Zinke was among several names that had been floated for this job. Tell us a little more about his background and why the president-elect chose him.

SIEGLER: Right, well, for starters, he was an early and vocal supporter of Donald Trump, so I think that's a big factor. Zinke served nearly two decades in the Navy SEALs. He's a decorated veteran. He's certainly a rising star in the Republican Party. He served in the Montana legislature before being elected to Congress in 2014. In both places, you know, he's became quickly known as a champion of conservative causes. He's a very vocal advocate of oil and gas drilling and expanding oil and gas drilling on federal lands as well as coal mining. And, not surprisingly, like a lot of House Republicans, he gets a pretty poor rating from environmental groups for his party-line votes on issues like mining and the climate.

MARTIN: So his environmental record is well known, but I understand there's at least one recent instance where he bucked his party line.

SIEGLER: Yes, and this is a very closely watched issue, especially here in Wyoming and the rural west, and it's an important one. It's this proposal in Congress to transfer ownership and management of millions of acres of federal lands to the states. This is included as a pillar in the RNC platform. You'll recall that this issue was at the heart of what Cliven Bundy and his militia were demanding in those armed anti-government standoffs out in Oregon and Nevada. But Ryan Zinke, at least for now, has said he's opposed to this transfer. He told Montana Public Radio recently that he's always been a strong supporter of public lands. Let's hear a little tape of that quickly.


RYAN ZINKE: Public land should not be sold or transferred, but certainly we need to look at better ways of managing our public lands in the best interest of all.

SIEGLER: And, Rachel, Donald Trump seemed to say as much, too, on the campaign trail, although the issue hasn't come up recently, anyway.

MARTIN: So we mentioned you're in a state with a lot of federal land, Wyoming, also a state that is very pro-states' rights in trying to protect the rights of ranchers and farmers. What are you hearing about Zinke?

SIEGLER: Well, right, this is an energy state. I think Zinke is going to be seen as pretty popular here. And he's a lifelong hunter and fisherman. This will carry a lot of clout for him across the rural West, not the least of which in his home state of Montana, one state to the north. You know, yesterday, I was out on a story with a hunter who was scoping out an upcoming elk hunt north of Laramie.

And, you know, he told me that sportsmen are ready and will likely work with Zinke and vice versa. He was especially hopeful that Zinke would continue to fight for access to public lands and keeping federal public lands public. So we'll have to see how that plays out in Congress and both in the Department of Interior going forward.

MARTIN: NPR's Kirk Siegler from Laramie, Wyo. Thanks so much, Kirk.

SIEGLER: Glad to do it, Rachel.


Really interesting conversation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.