WASHINGTON, D.C.— Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke issued his resignation to the White House on Saturday, amidst probes into real estate deals in his home state of Montana, and his conduct during office.
Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, is facing scrutiny by a Department of Justice probe regarding a possible deal with with oil industry giant Halliburton in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana, less than 30 miles from the gates of Glacier National Park, which Zinke oversaw. The probe is investigating a conflict of interest.
Zinke has been a leading advocate for President Trump’s push to expand domestic energy production. After an initially positive reception from conservation groups like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and American Sportfishing Association, Zinke has become a target for environmental groups for relaxing Obama-era environmental rules and opening federal waters and lands for the mining of fossil fuels.
Under Zinke’s watch, the Department of Interior repealed standards meant to reduce methane pollution from oil and gas drilling on federal lands, and worked to repeal additional regulations on fracking. Zinke also lead the Interior review of national monuments, resulting in the slashing of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument—recently opened for coal mining—and Bears Ears National Monument. Additionally, Zinke pursued policies to change how the Endangered Species Act is implemented, reducing protections for threatened species, natural habitats, and migratory birds.
Zinke called the investigations “vicious and politically motivated attacks” while maintaining his innocence. In his resignation latter, he called the claims meritless.
“I love working for the President and am incredibly proud of all the good work we’ve accomplished together,” he wrote. “However, after 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations.”
In June, Zinke announced a $60 million co-op with the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation to help retain and recruit anglers.
Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt is likely to take command of the Department of the Interior in Zinke’s wake. That department oversees the National Park Service, National Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, and the Office of Ocean Energy Management, among others.