Several hundred chanting, sign-waving, and mostly well-mannered protesters rallied Monday evening outside the Reagan Ranch Center on lower State Street to greet Ryan Zinke, President Donald Trump’s newly appointed secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI).
Chants of “Keep oil out!” and “Keep public lands public!” summed up crowd sentiment in light of Zinke’s recent comments to energy industry executives that an “offshore drilling directive is set to be issued soon,” according to Alena Simon, an organizer with Food & Water Watch. Regarding the latter rallying call, Zinke told the privately invited audience that “the president and I both agree that we’re not going to sell or transfer public land.” He added, “But we are going to manage our land.”
A major factor of Zinke’s overhauled management of DOI’s holdings — which stretch from the Virgin Islands to remote Alaska to American Samoa and comprise 75 percent of federal public lands — calls for a cultural shift away from the perception that the face of DOI is “Smokey the Bear in a flak jacket with a gun,” he said. “What people should see is the happy ranger.
“[We need to] restore trust,” he continued. “People don’t trust our government anymore. And it hurts me. It should hurt us all because it’s our government … and it works for us. And when we don’t trust the government … we don’t have dialogue anymore; we have protests.”
Vastly outnumbered, a handful of conspicuous Trump supporters outside the Reagan Center countered widespread support for clean-energy policy by waving “Drill, baby, drill!” signs. “We need to utilize energy resources we have here so that we’re not so dependent on places like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Venezuela,” said Steve Thomas, sporting a Make America Great Again ballcap. “We need to become energy independent.”
Inside, Zinke — a self-proclaimed “Teddy Roosevelt guy” and former Navy SEAL commander who has served as a Montana senator and congressmember — explained that domestic energy production can drive economic strength, positioning the U.S. as a global grandmaster able to forgo crude oil imports from Iraq, for example. “God’s got a sense of humor,” Zinke said, “He gave us fracking. And all of a sudden, we have more energy than anybody. But we’re going to use it right. I’m a Boy Scout; I’ve always been taught you leave your campground in the same or better condition as you found it. So if we are going to produce energy in this country — and we are — we’re gonna do it right. That means I’m going to hold everybody accountable.”
Zinke — who’s been married to Santa Barbara’s Lolita Hand Zinke since 1992; they have three children — did not specifically speak to fracking in Santa Barbara County, nor to offshore oil production in the Santa Barbara Channel. He said he welcomes a spectrum of energy options, adding, “On the energy question, we’ll look at it on the basis of science, best practices, and the local community is going to have a say.”
Zinke spoke for about 20 minutes before turning the microphone over to the audience for questions and comments, ranging from Chumash Tribal Chair Kenneth Kahn commending Zinke’s general remarks regarding Native American sovereignty to more specific details concerning California’s recovery from the worst drought in its recorded history.
“As it turns out, I’m the water master,” Zinke said, referring to DOI control over the Bureau of Reclamation, which built Lake Cachuma’s Bradbury Dam.
He said that 30 percent of the DOI budget is spent in California on reclamation and that the state needs to do a better job storing rainwater and snowmelt. “We have to accept that we’re going to have to build collection systems” and “get rid of the roadblocks” preventing existing dams from adding more vertical concrete to increase reservoir capacity, he said.
In addition to the Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Indian Affairs, the DOI is the umbrella agency of the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, U.S. Geological Survey, and Office of Insular Affairs.