Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke joined me this morning:
HH: Joined now by the Secretary of the Interior, the Honorable Ryan Zinke. Mr. Secretary, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, first time I’ve had you on as Secretary. I hope you make it a frequent stop on your travels on the radio airwaves.
RZ: Well, great to be with you.
HH: I want to start by asking do we blame you for the GQ-style Brad Pitt in the National Parks issue? Or was that a decision taken before you became Secretary?
RZ: That, I had nothing to do with that. But…
RZ: You know, our national parks are our treasures, so…
HH: (laughing) You know, it’s so, you know, the Guardian has an entire article ragging on that magazine edition today, and it’s really a pretty awful thing, but I’m glad you had nothing to do with that. Let’s get to some serious stuff. Are you maintaining the policy that active duty military have free access to the national parks, Mr. Secretary?
RZ: We are, although I’ll tell you, we are looking at revenue across the board. And if you go back to 2008, we made $15.5 billion dollars more just in offshore, just in offshore, than what we did last year. So you know, a lot of people talk about the budget and the backlog of maintenance and…but when you draw $15.5 billion dollars a year in revenue, let me tell you, that amount of money can catch up on all of the backlog of our national parks, which is you know, about $12.5 billion when I came in.
HH: I’m with you on that, but I want to keep the active duty military with their free passes. You know that.
RZ: Well, no one loves the military more than I do.
HH: So I’m going to take that as a you’ll be very slow before you change that policy at a minimum. I want to talk about the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. I think it is the most dysfunctional agency in the United States Government. I have been dealing with it for 30 years. I know it inside and out. People file applications for 10A permits, for Section 7 permits. They never hear back. Stuff gets lost. People don’t return phone calls. How are you going to change the culture of the most dysfunctional agency in the government?
RZ: Well, I’ll tell you, a lot of it is trust, just as you say. And we’re the stewards of our greatest holdings. But there’s a lot of anger, and there’s a lot of distrust, because we have not been very good at managing or listening to the local voice. And the President has said up front, we’re going to listen to the local voice. So culturally, we’re going to change to, we’re going to be the collaborative and the helpful, the working with people, the advocate rather than an adversary as a lot of times we have been. But there is a cultural shift.
HH: I hope you sell this, and I know as a former SEAL you are able to talk about top to bottom transformation. But for years, they’ve done these sue and settle deals, which cut landowners out. I’ve always represented landowners, and you wake up one day, and the Center for Biological Diversity has done a sue and settle deal with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that completely screws landowners. It’s not, it’s not even due process. It’s fundamentally un-American.
RZ: Well, and as you point out, a lot of this is transparency. And these sue and settle deals, you know, that are court-sealed, you can’t follow the money. So we are very, I think, acute, and we’re focusing on making sure what we do is transparent, that we work with the local communities, we’re an advocate, as I said, and trust, but verify. So we have a lot of work to do to restoring trust back with the American public.
HH: Now there is this Congressional Review Act, which you used to wield when you were in the House, and you know that old critical habitat designations which were in the 60 day legislative window can be reversed by a simple majority vote of the Congress. Are you considering doing any of that in the next few legislative weeks?
RZ: Well, we had the BLM. And you know, as Secretary, I can’t advocate, you know, for or lobby members. But I can tell you on the process is that this, the advantage of a Congressional CR, one is that it resets it so as we go forward with a new rule, I don’t have to worry about litigation. As you pointed out, you know, in the first hours, literally in the first hours of assuming as Secretary, I think I was sued a half a dozen times by Noon. And you know, lawsuits cost a lot of money, but the advantage of a Congressional Review Act is that it resets it, and then we can go forward with a rule without having it go through piles of litigation. And it saves the taxpayers, you know, millions of dollars.
HH: I hope you do that. That is, that’s good news. You know, there’s one particular, one more beef I have.
RZ: Only one?
HH: For years, the service…only one more. I know this agency so well, and I know your predecessors, and I know your deputy secretary is a great guy. He knows what he’s doing. But for years, they’ve declared species endangered on the basis of extrapolated habitat loss based upon development over 70 years. It’s not science. It’s junk science. And do we have your commitment to end the junk science at the Department of the Interior, whether it’s BLM or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, or reclamation, there’s just a lot of junk science there.
RZ: Well, you know, I’m a geologist. And science, to me, matters. But you’re right. When an agenda is put forward, and it’s picking and choosing scientific data for an agenda, and quite frankly, both sides have been guilty.
RZ: Climate change is no different. And the science should be just what it is.
HH: All right, last question.
RZ: Stay out of the opinion column. Let’s just go with the facts and science. And we have really good scientists, but we need to make sure that they’re objective and held accountable.
HH: Last question. How about the God Squad for the delta smelt? The valley in Central California is dying of thirst because of the delta smelt. It’s not really endangered, in my view. You can put the God Squad together. What about having that happen?
RZ: Well, you know, I have an influence, but I don’t have the last say. It’s amazing that in the same strain, and this is a problem with bureaucracy within the government. If you have a stream, and you have a trout and a salmon in that same stream, you have NOAA, which works for the Department of Commerce. And you have Fish & Wildlife, which works for the Department of Interior. And you’re going to come to two different conclusions based on protection of the trout, which is you know, land-based streams, and the salmon, which goes out into the ocean.
RZ: And often times, these bureaucracies will not work in tandem, but will work in opposite directions, and the conclusion will be in conflict with each other. On the smelt, we have to address the predators, the, you know, the striped bass in there is chewing a lot of smelt.
HH: Yeah, but what about the God Squad? You know, I’m pushing you a little bit on this. Do you think you can get it convened to consider what to do about the smelt?
RZ: Well, you have to. And part of the issue with California, which the water, is it’s feast and famine, right? We are wholly inadequate on storage capability. And our storage, we drain it like crazy, and you know you’re in California when all the water’s going out to sea. So we need to look at our infrastructure to make sure we build dams. We’re having a problem on one of the dams in California that was designed for a hundred feet taller than it is, designed for it, but yet we’re going through the legal wrangling even to raise that dam ten feet. And that’s a lot of capability of storage. So you know, with the feast and famine, you know, cycle in California, we’ve got to get better at storage of water and using that water better.
HH: And we’ve got to get the delta smelt delisted, Mr. Secretary. It’s just not endangered.
RZ: Well, you know that the number, I’d say the jury is out on both, but certainly our approach is not working, and our approach needs to be revisited. There’s a lot of water, but when it goes all out to sea, we’ve got to store it, and it’s a problem.
HH: Oh, it certainly is. Mr. Secretary, come back early and often. I appreciate you joining me. Congratulations, I look forward to seeing you in a national park soon.
RZ: Indeed, and keep the faith, and visit a battlefield or a national park soon.
HH: I will do that. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
RZ: You’re welcome.
End of interview.