Story highlights

Zinke said climate change is not a 'hoax'

The Montanan also said he's against selling public lands

Washington CNN  — 

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Interior Department pledged Tuesday to review Obama administration actions limiting oil and gas drilling in Alaska and said he does not believe climate change is a hoax.

Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke appeared before Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as the Senate heads into a second week of intense confirmation hearings after a long holiday weekend.

Zinke said it’s “indisputable” that the climate is changing.

“I do not believe it’s a ‘hoax,” Zinke said in a response to a question from Sen. Bernie Sanders, a contrast with a past statement from Trump using that word.

“Man has had an influence” on climate, Zinke said, “I think that’s indisputable as well.”

But Zinke demurred when it came to committing to address rising temperatures or limiting oil drilling on public lands.

“I think where there’s debate is what that influence is and what we can do about it,” he said. “I will inherit USGS. There’s great scientists there.

Zinke pledged to base his actions on and support “objective science.”

Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, earlier asked Zinke for his commitment to reviewing all of the Obama administration’s moves to put parts of her state off limits to development.

Zinke said he would.

“The President-elect has said we want to be energy independent,” Zinke said, saying he had traveled in his military career and witnessed the impacts of energy policy. “It is better to produce energy domestically with reasonable regulation than have it produced overseas without regulation.”

Public lands, monuments and infrastructure

On one of the most important issues to both members of the committee, Zinke ruled out pursuing the sale or transfer of federal lands – something that pleases Democrats on the panel.

“I want to be clear on this point. I am absolutely against transfer or sale of public lands,” he told Sanders in response to another question.

Zinke also said one of his top three priorities would be the backlog of needed maintenance on national parks and federal lands, with a nod to one of Trump’s stated goals of investing in infrastructure.

The Montana Republican said he would “prioritize” an estimate of $12.5 billion in a backlog of National Parks maintenance and repair.

“The President-elect is committed to a jobs and infrastructure bill, and I am committed and to need your help in making sure that bill includes our Nations treasures,” Zinke said in his opening.

Asked further about the issue, Zinke listed off just the projects he sees on a regular basis in the DC area, including fountains that don’t work and the Arlington Memorial Bridge in grave need of repair.

“We better get on it,” Zinke said.

National monument designations

Zinke was also asked about the hot topic of national monuments. In the waning months of his administration, President Barack Obama angered Republicans by designating millions of acres of land as national monuments. The move pleased conservationists and Native American tribes that viewed some of the sites as sacred, but aggravated local politicians and communities around the land.

Multiple senators asked Zinke about whether the President-elect might rescind the monument designation – something that has never been done.

Zinke would not commit to doing so, but would not rule it out.

“It will be interesting to see if the President has authority to nullify a monument,” Zinke said. “Legally, it’s untested. … I think if a President would nullify a monument it would be challenged, and then a judge would determine (legality).”

But going forward, Zinke said his priority would be working with states and local communities ahead of time to get people on board with monuments.

“A monument, when it falls in a state, I think the state should have a say,” Zinke said. “I view it as absolutely critical to have state and local support on a monument that they participate in.”

Like his predecessors, Zinke committed to traveling across the country and visiting states – but especially pledged to visit Utah, where one of Obama’s controversial monument designations was established.

Teddy Roosevelt as a role model

Zinke is a decorated former Navy SEAL, serving 23 years, and former state senator. He is in his second term in Congress, being elected for the first time in 2014.

His selection as the Interior nominee was due in part to his views as a Western state lawmaker and on public lands. Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., is an avid hunter and fisher and subscriber to a Teddy Roosevelt view of public lands that mixes conservation and development. Zinke often cites himself as a Roosevelt acolyte, as well.

Trump Jr. was actively involved in the search for an interior nominee, speaking openly with sportsmen publications about his interest in the role.

“I am an unapologetic admirer of Teddy Roosevelt and believe he had it right when he placed under federal protection millions of acres of our federal lands and set aside much of it as our National forests,” Zinke will say in opening remarks released by the transition. “I also recognize that the preponderance of our federal holdings are better suited to be managed under the (Forest Service Chief Gifford) Pinchot model of multiple use using best practices, sustainable policies and objective science.”

Trump’s son’s involved in vetting, interviewing potential nominees