Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Nominations Of Ryan Zinke To Be Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Rick Perry To Be the Secretary of Energy

I want to explain my opposition to the nominations of Ryan Zinke to be Secretary of the Interior and Rick Perry to be the Secretary of Energy. I have closely reviewed their records, testimony, and responses to questions for the record.

The Secretary of the Interior is one of the most important jobs in the Federal Government, and has a far reach when it comes to coordinating our Federal policy in the 50 states and U.S. territories for our public lands, parks, and cherished natural resources. The Secretary and the Department of Interior are tasked with using sound science to manage and sustain America’s lands, water, wildlife, and energy resources, while honoring our nation’s vital obligations and responsibilities to tribal nations. The Secretary of Interior also coordinates Federal assistance to the Freely Associated States of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau under the Compacts of Free Association. There are few Cabinet positions with such a wide range of management and organization.

Any nominee for this position should be selected for their commitment to protecting our precious resources, as well as their dedication to uphold and enforce our environmental laws.

After reviewing Mr. Zinke’s record, there is little doubt that he is dedicated to public service and that he has a strong connection to the outdoors. However, the Secretary of the Interior has a great responsibility as the leading steward of our majestic public lands, the champion of our great tribal nations, and the manager and defender of our diverse wildlife. I fear that Mr. Zinke may not be fully prepared to set aside some of his personal views on the management of our resources and consider the views of all Americans as we debate critical natural resources issues.

I enjoyed learning that Mr. Zinke is an admirer of President Teddy Roosevelt, a point that has been repeated countless times, and I was pleased that he agrees that, yes, President Roosevelt did get it right when he placed millions of acres of lands under federal protection. However, I hope that Mr. Zinke will not only study the work that President Roosevelt did to instill a conservation ethic in this country, but will look more broadly at other individuals whose steadfast commitment and dedication to conservation and historic preservation have left their mark in Vermont and across the country.

For instance, Laurance Rockefeller made significant contributions to the American conservation movement that had a lasting impact on the American landscape. The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock, Vermont, honors not only Rockefeller’s dedication to conservation, but is also the first national park to tell the story of conservation history and the evolving nature of land stewardship in America. Conservation of the environment and recreational development was a passion to which he dedicated his life. In addition to his work in Vermont, he was instrumental in the creation and development of the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and the Virgin Islands National Park on the island of St. John. These three national parks could not be more different, but they are each spectacular pieces of our natural heritage. This heritage that would not exist today and be available for the public to enjoy, had it not been for the vital work of Laurance Rockefeller and the Federal investments that have been made in these important public lands.

I hope Mr. Zinke will also study and hopefully visit the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which carves its way not only through Vermont, but 13 other states as well. This trail is an amazing footpath for the people that traverses over 2,100 miles through wild forests, towns, valleys, and mountaintops, and connects a myriad of through-hikers and day hikers to our scenic landscape. All of them are able to enjoy the important Federal investments in this trail, which is maintained by the countless hours of work done every year by devoted volunteers like the Green Mountain Club in Vermont.

Work to build and maintain the Appalachian Trail is not static, nor is it complete.  There continue to be important investments needed through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to acquire land and conservation easements to safeguard the trail. There is much needed trail maintenance that should be included as part of any infrastructure bill the Senate considers. This work is shovel-ready and will have a considerable impact in supporting our outdoor economy on which Vermont is so dependent.

Mr. Zinke should also seek out expertise and guidance from the past Secretaries of the Interior who have dedicated their lives to this work. I hope he will study the exit memo that Secretary Jewell prepared on the Department’s Record of Progress and the moral imperative the Department has to positively impact our American economy, our rural communities and cities, and ultimately, the well-being of our planet.

As Secretary of Interior, Mr. Zinke will oversee a number of ongoing debates concerning our fragile public lands, the protection of endangered species, and how we respond to climate change. I know that there is no single solution that can answer the different land management issues facing each region of our country. Many stakeholders are constantly engaging the Interior Department and the Senate with a wide variety of views on how we should protect, access, and use our natural resources. In Vermont, we are deeply concerned about the pressure being placed on our natural resources from rapid growth and climate change.

I heard from hundreds of Vermonters concerned about Mr. Zinke’s nomination and worried that our environmental standards and laws will not be enforced for our lands, air, water and threatened species under his leadership. His record has shown an opposition to policies that protect valuable rivers and streams from polluting coal runoff and a willingness to weaken historic laws such as President Teddy Roosevelt’s Antiquities Act. He even authored a bill that sought to obstruct efforts by the Department of the Interior to review and modernize management of our Federal energy resources and ensure that taxpayers are fairly compensated for their sale. Taxpayers deserve a Secretary of the Interior who will work to support the protection of our shared Federal resources 100 percent of the time, not one who will actively work to weaken or dismantle the powers of protection invested in this Department.

Based on that record, I voted against his nomination.  Nonetheless, now that Mr. Zinke is the Secretary, I want him to know that I am committed to working closely with him on a variety of issues that are important to Vermonters and all Americans. I will work with him to foster consensus not only in New England, but throughout the country. As the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and a member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, I am committed to working with him to ensure that we protect our Federal lands and continue the important conservation ethic of Teddy Roosevelt to permanently protect our beautiful and fragile natural resources, while also addressing new challenges posed by climate change.

With respect to the nomination of Rick Perry to be the Secretary of the Department of Energy, hundreds of Vermonters have written to me in opposition. They were concerned that under his leadership we will halt the forward progress we have made towards a responsible energy strategy for the future of our country. Not only did Governor Perry made headlines for famously proposing to abolish the Department of Energy, he lacks a background or any true experience on the complex scientific and technical issues in the Department of Energy’s portfolio. This agency must be focused on addressing our energy and environmental challenges through transformative science and technology solutions. Yet Mr. Perry expedited the permitting of coal-fired electric generating plants and filed suit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that greenhouse gases significantly endanger public health. How can we trust him to lead the Energy Department?

I was pleased that during his confirmation hearing Governor Perry apologized for suggesting that the entire Department of Energy should be abolished. However, he has yet to say that he will fight to maintain important offices within the Department, such as the Office of Electricity and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. I find it hard to see how we can pursue an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy called for by the administration if so much of the Department’s capabilities are targeted for elimination. By supporting research around wind, solar, and efficiency, offering loan guarantees for innovative demonstration projects, and providing expertise and support to the private sector in commercializing new research we can create American jobs and grow the national economy.  Conversely, if we turn our back on the future, we are ceding these important and fast growing fields of research and production of renewable energy technologies to China, the European Union and other countries at a critical time.  That would be a monumental mistake to haunt our economy for many years.

Earlier today, I had the chance to talk to a Vermont company that is closely watching the work of the Energy Department to advance America’s clean energy revolution. Northern Power Systems in Barre, Vermont, has been designing and developing wind turbines for almost forty years and offers support services for energy generation needs around the world. Last year, they received an award for their increase in exports, but rather than selling to an international market they would rather see their sales here in the U.S. take off so that they can create more American jobs to manufacture American-made wind turbines. Turbines that should be installed here to utilize this reliable, abundant, and free resource to lower energy costs for Americans.

It is troubling that Mr. Perry has taken such an aggressive stance against the Department of Energy, and dismissed large parts of its mission.  I hope that he will devote himself to learning everything he can about the diverse work of the Department and surround himself with some of the best public servants and technical experts he can find.

The last Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz, prepared two documents that I am hopeful Mr. Perry will study closely. First, the Quadrennial Energy Review provides a broad review of federal energy policy in the context of economic, environmental, occupational, security, and health and safety priorities. The Department also prepared an extensive suite of analyses to accompany the Quadrennial Energy Review that I know would serve Mr. Perry well as he tries to understand the wide array of issue that will come before him at the Department.

I would also recommend that he review the exit memo Secretary Moniz prepared, which highlights the responsibilities and opportunities for the Department’s enduring service to the nation as our leading science, technology, and innovation agency. The Department has an extraordinary span of responsibilities from energy and the environment, to cybersecurity, science and national security, and it must collaborate with other agencies like the Defense Department and our intelligence community.

I remain committed to supporting and protecting the essential mission of the Department of Energy in order to move us forward with 21st Century jobs and make needed investments in our electricity grid, clean energy, and energy efficiency that will save American consumers and businesses money. 

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