Ryan Zinke refers to himself as a geologist. That’s a job he’s never held.

Defending his decision to shrink the Bears Ears national monument to lawmakers last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke fell back one of his favorite credentials.

“I’m a geologist,” he said. “I can assure you that oil and gas in Bears Ears was not part of my decision matrix. A geologist will tell you there is little, if any, oil and gas.”

Since becoming leader of the 70,000-employee agency, Zinke has suggested that he was a geologist or former geologist at least 40 times in public settings, including many under oath before Congress.

He uses it as a credential booster, saying things such as, “I can tell you, from a geologist, offshore mining of sand is enormously destructive environmentally, as in comparison to seismic,” as he told the House Natural Resources Committee last month.

And, “Florida is different in the currents — I’m a geologist — it’s different in geology,” in an interview with Breitbart News, defending his decision to exempt Florida from offshore drilling.

He also uses it while discussing coal revenue, seismic activity, climate change, national monuments, precious metals, endangered species, fracking and drilling.

He also uses it while discussing coal revenue, seismic activity, climate change, national monuments, precious metals, endangered species, fracking and drilling.

In May, he criticized the work of the US Geological Survey, saying at a press conference in Alaska that “I think the assessments of the USGS has done previous, I think they fall short, from a geologist’s point of view.”

Zinke, however, has never held a job as a geologist.

In his autobiography, Zinke wrote that he majored in geology at the University of Oregon, which he attended on a football scholarship, and chose his major at random.

“I studied geology as a result of closing my eyes and randomly pointing to a major from the academic catalog, and I never looked back. I am just glad I did not find electronics,” he wrote, adding that he was focused and a good student, and earned an outstanding academic achievement award his senior year.

After graduating, Zinke wrote that he considered a career in subsurface geological surveying, but after a meeting with a Navy commander, “I realized that I was doing a lot more thinking about SEAL activities — or what I thought SEAL activities would be — than I was about geological exploration and surveying.”

His LinkedIn page, his book, and various news clips piecing together his post-military life — compiled by the left-leaning group American Bridge — show that once Zinke retired as a SEAL he went into business and politics, never mentioning work in the field of geology.

Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift provided this statement to CNN: “Ryan Zinke graduated with honors with a B.S. in Geology. His intended career path was underwater geology – and he had college jobs to support that career. Upon graduation he was recruited to be an officer in the US Navy SEALs where he proudly served for 23 years and retired with the rank of Commander.”

Interior did not answer if Zinke is or has been a member of the American Institute of Professional Geologists or the Association of State Boards of Geologists.

Several geologists who CNN has spoken with have flagged his comments as disingenuous, saying that someone with a 34-year-old degree who never worked in the field is not considered a geologist.

“He seems not to be familiar with modern geologic knowledge,” said Seth Stein, a professor at the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. “In particular, geologists now know that the climate is warming rapidly because of human activities. This is is causing many serious problems including rising sea level, which is a major threat to coastal communities.”

In addition, Zinke’s numerous rollbacks of environmental protections, wavering stance on climate change, and allegations by career staff that he surpassed certain reports have at least one Democratic member of Congress asking whether he should be using his college degree as a credibility booster.

“I’m not sure Secretary Zinke was paying attention during those geology classes,” said Raul Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Zinke has, several times, fallen back on his geology degree to justify his decisions. For example, in a hearing in March before the Natural Resources Committee, Zinke said, “as a geologist, the fair proposition is if you’re going to develop on federal land, there needs to be a reclamation plan to make sure that it’s returned to as good or better condition than what you found it.”

And in December, when he ordered a nationwide survey of minerals, Zinke said, “right now the United States is almost completely reliant on foreign adversaries and competitors for many of the minerals that are deemed critical for our national and economic security. As both a former military commander and geologist, I know the risk this presents to our nation.”

In September, he touted fracking at a Heritage Foundation event, saying, “I’m a former geologist. I say ‘former’ because when I went to school, I was taught that we are going to be out of oil in 2003; that there was peak oil. That’s not possible with fracking.”

And in July, when discussion national monuments he was considering shrinking, Zinke was quoted in the Albuquerque Journal saying, “the area of the monument – it’s actually four separate parcels – is a ‘little disconnected,” he told reporters during a helicopter tour. “The boundaries are difficult to discern – between private, public, state lands,’ he said. ‘The features, as a geologist, I was particularly fascinated with the basalts and the volcanics – beautiful ground.”

In one Senate Appropriations hearing last June, Zinke called himself a geologist four times, including while discussing coal revenue and potential drilling sites.

“I’m a geologist,” Zinke said. “And I don’t consider myself a genius, but I’m a pretty smart guy.”

[CNN]

Two top Trump officials were registered lobbyists for Russian-born businessman linked to Putin

A new investigation from Vice News reveals that two senior Trump administration officials were once registered lobbyists for a Russian-born businessman who has deep ties to Putin-connected Russian oligarchs.

According to Vice, Makan Delrahim — the Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division in the Department of Justice — and David Bernhardt — who is currently the No. 2 official at the Department of the Interior — were registered lobbyists for Access Industries, a holding company under the control of Soviet-born billionaire Leonard Blavatnik.

Blavatnik, who is a naturalized dual U.S.-U.K. citizen, is connected to Russian oligarchs via Access Industries’ large stake in Russian aluminum company UC Rusal. Two other men who have large stakes in UC Rusal are Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg — Russian businessmen who were recently hit with sanctions by the United States Treasury Department.

What is particularly notable about Blavatnik, notes Vice, is that he once spread out campaign donations fairly evenly between Republicans and Democrats — before shifting heavily in favor of the GOP during the 2016 election cycle, when President Donald Trump was the party’s nominee.

What’s more, he’s continued to give to Republicans since Trump’s election.

“Although he didn’t donate directly to Trump’s campaign, after Trump won, Access Industries gave a further $1 million to the Presidential Inaugural Committee,” Vice News reports. “And according to The Wall Street Journal, Blavatnik gave $12,700 in April 2017 to a Republican National Committee fund that was used to help pay for the team of private attorneys representing Trump in the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

Read the whole report here.

[Raw Story]

Zinke tells employees diversity isn’t important

Several employees at the Interior Department have told CNN that Secretary Ryan Zinke repeatedly says that he won’t focus on diversity, an apparent talking point that has upset many people within the agency.

Three high-ranking Interior officials from three different divisions said that Zinke has made several comments with a similar theme, saying “diversity isn’t important,” or “I don’t care about diversity,” or “I don’t really think that’s important anymore.”

Each time, Zinke followed with something along the lines of, “what’s important is having the right person for the right job,” or “I care about excellence, and I’m going to get the best people, and you’ll find we have the most diverse group anyone’s ever had,” the sources said.

Interior last year unexpectedly reassigned 33 senior executive staffers, of which 15 were minorities, according to the lawyer of one of the staffers who was moved. Some of those who were reassigned have filed complaints with the US Merit Systems Board.

The accusations against Zinke come as he is under investigation by multiple agencies, including Interior’s inspector general and Office of Special Counsel, regarding employee reassignment and taxpayer spending on possible politically related travel.

Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift vehemently denied that Zinke said anything along those lines of criticizing the need for diversity, saying, “the anonymous claims made against the secretary are untrue.”

Swift added, “As a woman who has worked for him for a number of years in senior positions, I say without a doubt this claim is untrue, and I am hopeful that they are a result of a misunderstanding and not a deliberate mistruth.”

Swift pointed to two women and an African-American who Zinke has appointed to senior leadership positions, and said “Zinke has filled several other senior positions at the career and appointed level with individuals from diverse backgrounds.”

But Zinke’s alleged comments were particularly surprising to those who feel the agency has struggled to recruit and retain a diverse workforce.

In a hallway meet-and-greet shortly after Zinke was confirmed, one staffer told CNN that Zinke was asked about diversity at Interior, a department with about 68,000 employees, of which more than 70 percent are white, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
“(Zinke) flat out said, ‘I don’t really think that’s important anymore. We don’t need to focus on that anymore.’ He obviously needed someone to provide him with better talking points,” the staffer said.

A similar comment was made during another hallway greeting session with a different group of employees.

“He said it several times. I think it’s just how he speaks – he has his canned talking points,” said the second source, who heard the same comment from Zinke months later at a holiday party.

A third person, someone who is a minority in a leadership position in the department, said he heard a similar comment during a management meeting.

“That told me everything I needed to know,” the person said. “It’s a hard business as it is, and then not to be respected or appreciated for the diverse perspective that you bring to the situation — and that’s why it’s important in my opinion. It’s the fact that we don’t look at things the same way. When we have conversations about public lands and how they’re used, we cannot afford to have a small percentage of people making those decisions.”

Zinke came under fire from the public and at least one member of Congress earlier this month over remarks seen by some as insensitive. In testimony before the House Natural Resources committee, he greeted Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) with the Japanese greeting “Konichiwa” after she told a story about her grandparents being held in internment camps during World War II, and asked why he was cutting funding to preserve those sites.

Days later, after numerous news stories calling the remarks inappropriate, Zinke doubled down in a comment to reporters, saying “How could ever saying ‘Good morning’ be bad?”

[CNN]

Interior secretary Ryan Zinke’s office spent $139,000 for construction on an office door

Records show the Interior Department spent nearly $139,000 last year for construction at the agency that was labeled on a work order as “Secretary’s Door.”

A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke did not provide answers Thursday to questions about whether changes had been made to a door in the secretary’s office.

Records show the Maryland contractor that performed the work, Conquest Solutions LLC, has done several renovation projects at federal buildings. A man who answered the phone at the company Thursday hung up when a reporter asked about Zinke’s office.

Zinke is one of several Trump Cabinet officials under scrutiny for questionable spending. He spent $53,000 on three helicopter trips last year, including one to go on a horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence.

[Business Insider]

Interior Secretary: One-third of employees ‘not loyal to the flag’

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reportedly said Monday that nearly a third of his department’s employees are not “loyal to the flag” or President Trump.

“I got 30 percent of the crew that’s not loyal to the flag,” Zinke told the National Petroleum Council during a speech, according to The Associated Press.

“We do have good people” Zinke added. “But the direction has to be clear and you’ve got to hold people accountable.”

Trump and some of his allies have complained of an entrenched federal bureaucracy that they say has worked to stop — or at least slow — the president’s agenda.

The Interior secretary’s comments about the American flag came amid a feud between Trump and the NFL over the president’s criticism of players who kneel in protest during the national anthem.

Trump sparked the controversy during a campaign rally in Alabama last Friday, saying that professional athletes who protest during the anthem should be fired.

Many NFL teams responded by asserting players’ right to free speech, and many players kneeled during the anthem during Sunday’s games. Some teams, like the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers, refused to appear on the field for the anthem altogether.

Some critics have claimed that the president’s comments are racially motivated.

But Trump has stood by his criticism and sought to cast his rhetoric only as a defense of the U.S. and its flag.

“The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race,” he tweeted Monday. “It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!”

[The Hill]

Reality

This should be very troubling that a government department head who oversees tens of thousands of non-partisan positions claims that there will be a loyalty test, and people will lose their job if they do not swear loyalty to Donald Trump.

This is third-world authoritarian stuff.

Interior Dept. Halts Study Into Appalachian Mining Technique’s Likely Health Hazards

The Trump administration has halted a study of the health effects of a common mining technique in Appalachia, which is believed to deposit waste containing toxic minerals in ground waters.

A letter from the Interior Department directed the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to “cease all work” on a study of the potential health risks of mountaintop removal mining for people living near surface coal mine sites in central Appalachia. The Interior Department acknowledged in a statement that it had “put on hold” $1 million in funding for the two-year project as part of a review of its grants, which is focused on “responsibly using taxpayer dollars.”
“The Trump Administration is dedicated to responsibly using taxpayer dollars and that includes the billions of dollars in grants that are doled out every year by the Department of the Interior,” the statement said.

Still, the National Academies — a nongovernmental institution that researches and advises the government on science and technology — plans to move forward with part of the research, and will hold previously scheduled public meetings this week in Kentucky, the Academies said in a statement.

Political reaction was swift to the Trump administration’s decision to suspend the study of “the potential relationship between increased health risks and living in proximity to sites that have been or are being mined or reclaimed for surface coal deposits,” which began last year and was expected to take two years to complete.

“Mountaintop removal mining has been shown to cause lung cancer, heart disease, and other medical problems,” Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the ranking democrat on the House Committee of Natural Resources, said in a statement.
“Clearly this administration and the Republican Party are trying to stop the National Academy of Sciences from uncovering exactly how harmful this practice is,” Grijalva said.

“It’s infuriating that Trump would halt this study on the health effects of mountaintop removal coal mining, research that people in Appalachia have been demanding for years,” said Bill Price, Senior Appalachia Organizing Representative for environmental advocacy group Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

[CNN]

Oil Lobby Met With Trump Interior Secretary at Trump Hotel

The oil industry’s most powerful lobbying group met on March 23 with President Trump’s interior secretary at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. It also happened to be the same day the administration killed a rule that oil companies opposed.

The location of the meeting is raising eyebrows and ethical questions. The Trump International Hotel, situated just blocks from the White House, is ground zero for companies and foreign leaders who may be trying to cozy up to the president by using his properties, critics and ethics experts fear.

“It creates the appearance they are currying favor” by staying at a Trump hotel, said Lawrence Noble, general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog.

Noble, a CNN contributor, said while the meeting may not violate specific ethics rules, it shows that companies have discovered a “not-so-subtle way of showing support for the president.”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke addressed the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) board of directors on that day at the Trump International Hotel, according to Zinke’s recently-released schedule.

Zinke, a strong advocate of the oil industry, spoke for 10 minutes, and then held a brief question-and-answer session, the Interior Department confirmed in a statement to CNNMoney.

That same day, the Interior Department announced plans to get rid of an Obama-era rule toughening standards on how much fossil fuel companies owe the government for drilling and mining on federal land. The energy industry had fought the rule. The oil industry group had even filed a lawsuit against it in December 2016.

The very next day, on March 24, the API put out a statement saying it was “pleased” by the Interior Department’s decision to get rid of the rule’s “substantial burdens.”

The Interior Department defended Zinke’s appearance at the API event.

“Like many secretaries before him, the Secretary was invited to speak at API’s meeting and he accepted the invitation. There is nothing unusual about a secretary speaking to stakeholders,” Heather Swift, a spokesperson for the department, said in a statement.

Swift said Zinke spoke about his “goals for the Department of the Interior and American energy.”

The Interior Department’s ethics office said it had “thoroughly vetted” Zinke’s API meeting. “We found that it presented no ethics violation or conflict of interest,” the ethics office said.

Noble, the ethics expert, agrees that meeting with an industry group “in and of itself is not unusual” as long as Zinke didn’t insist the gathering take place at a Trump hotel. There’s no evidence that Zinke picked the location of the API meeting.

It’s not clear how much the API spent on holding the meeting at the Trump International Hotel. Events at the hotel likely cost at least $100,000, The Washington Post has previously reported.

Neither the API nor the Trump Organization responded to requests for comment.

Zinke’s schedule doesn’t indicate who attended the meeting with API, which is chaired by ConocoPhillips (COP) CEO Ryan Lance.

The Trump International Hotel, which opened last September on the grounds of a renovated post office, has been a lightning rod for controversy. The Trump Organization rents space for the hotel from the General Services Administration, an agency of the Untied States government.

As president, Trump oversees the GSA, which makes him effectively both landlord and tenant.

Critics have argued the hotel violates the lease terms because there is a clause saying no government official can be a party to the 60-year lease that was signed in 2013.

In March, the federal government ruled that the hotel is not in violation of its lease. The GSA cited Trump’s decision to transfer control of his vast business empire to his sons and a Trump Organization executive.

However, Trump is still the ultimate beneficiary of the success of the company and the hotel.

Noble said there’s an easy way to resolve concerns about such conflicts involving Trump’s hotel.

“Just decide you won’t do any government business at the president’s hotel. Set a rule,” he said.

[CNN]

Interior Secretary Repeals Ban on Lead Bullets

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed an order Thursday overturning a ban on using lead ammunition on wildlife refuges.

Zinke signed the order on his first day in office, overturning a policy implemented by former Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dan Ashe on Jan. 19, the Obama administration’s last full day in office.

Ashe’s policy banned the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on all FWS wildlife refuges that allow hunting or fishing, as well as in all other hunting or fishing regulated by the agency elsewhere.

It was meant to help prevent plants and animals from being poisoned by lead left on the ground or in the water.

“After reviewing the order and the process by which it was promulgated, I have determined that the order is not mandated by any existing statutory or regulatory requirement and was issued without significant communication, consultation or coordination with affected stakeholders,” Zinke wrote in his order.

Zinke also signed an order Thursday asking agencies within his purview to find ways to increase access to outdoor recreation on the lands they oversee.

“It worries me to think about hunting and fishing becoming activities for the land-owning elite,” he said in a statement. “This package of secretarial orders will expand access for outdoor enthusiasts and also make sure the community’s voice is heard.”

Gun rights advocates, sportsmen’s groups, conservatives and state wildlife agencies were united against the lead ban.

Lead is standard in ammunition, and lead-free bullets are more expensive, leading opponents to accuse the FWS of trying to reduce hunting. Furthermore, opponents say, scientific studies do not show large-scale harms from lead use in hunting and fishing.

“This was a reckless, unilateral overreach that would have devastated the sportsmen’s community,” Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement, thanking Zinke.

“The Obama administration failed to consult with state fish and wildlife agencies or national angling and hunting organizations in issuing this order. This was not a decision based on sound scientific evidence — it was a last second attack on traditional ammunition and our hunting heritage.”

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who had asked for the repeal Wednesday, applauded Zinke’s action.

“I’m pretty certain the bureaucrat that put this regulation in place has never hunted elk in Montana,” he said in a statement. “Secretary Zinke is off to a strong start protecting Montana’s and our country’s hunting and fishing heritage.”

But the Sierra Club said there is “no reason” not to take lead out of ammunition and tackle.

“Non-lead options are available, effective, cost-competitive, and most importantly safer,” said Athan Manuel, public lands director for the group.

“Overturning the lead ammunition ban may win political points with a few special interests, but it could cost the lives of millions of birds and the health of families that rely on game to feed their families.”

(h/t The Hill)

Reality

More than 500 scientific studies published since 1898 have documented that worldwide, 134 species of wildlife are negatively affected by lead ammunition.

Interior Department Banned From Twitter After Retweet of Smaller-Than-Usual Trump Inauguration Crowd

The Interior Department was ordered Friday to shut down its official Twitter accounts — indefinitely — after a National Park Service employee shared two tweets that noted President Trump’s relatively small inaugural crowds compared to the numbers former President Obama drew in 2009.

‘‘All bureaus and the department have been directed by incoming administration to shut down Twitter platforms immediately until further notice,’’ said an e-mail circulated to Park Service employees Friday afternoon.

The e-mail described the stand-down as an ‘‘urgent directive’’ and said social media managers must shut down the accounts ‘‘until further directed.’’

Interior has dozens of official Twitter accounts at its multiple offices and 10 bureaus, which include the Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and US Geological Survey.

As Trump’s inauguration ceremony got underway Friday, a Park Service employee involved in social media officially retweeted a tweet from New York Times reporter Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) that pictured the crowd at Obama’s inauguration next to Friday’s gathering on the Mall.

‘‘Compare the crowds: 2009 inauguration at left, 2017 inauguration at right,’’ Appelbaum wrote. The Park Service Twitter account then shared a second tweet from someone else with a similar message.

A government official familiar with the stand-down said the agency is investigating whether the retweets were purposeful, ‘‘errant,’’ or ‘‘whether we’ve been hacked.’’

‘‘They were not reflective of Park Service policy,’’ said the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the directive. The stand-down was ‘‘precautionary’’ until the agency completes a review of its Twitter accounts, the official said. The Park Service tweeting ban was first reported by Gizmodo.com.

A retweet is a sharing of another person’s tweet. Seen straightforwardly, it’s a way to share an interesting piece of information. In the government’s case, the agency doing the retweeting must have a policy that agrees with the information.

In this case, the Park Service didn’t. Or someone was nervous that the retweets would be seen as endorsements of a relatively low crowd estimate and rankle the new administration.

It was unclear who at Interior made the decision to ban tweeting for now. The agency is being led temporarily by a team of career civil servants while the Senate considers Representative Ryan Zinke, Republican of Montana, as Trump’s nominee for secretary.

It was unclear Friday if the retweeting Park Service employee had been identified. But the offending shares from @NatlParkService had been removed from the agency’s Twitter feed.

National Park Service spokesman Thomas Crosson declined to comment on the tweeting ban. But he said that it is against Park Service policy to estimate the size of crowds at events, because they are often inaccurate.

‘‘Due to the difficulty in accurately assessing crowd estimates for large events, most notably following 1995’s Million Man March, the National Park Service no longer makes it a practice to provide crowd estimates for permitted events,’’ Crosson said in an e-mail.

‘‘While we make internal estimates for staffing, security, and emergency response purposes, it is left to the discretion of event organizers to make a determination of the event attendance.’’

(h/t Boston Globe)

Update

New photos released via a FOIA request absolutely prove Trump’s crowd sizes were drastically smaller that Obama’s inauguration.