Ryan Zinke
Ryan Zinke speaking at CPAC, an annual right wing gathering (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Good rid­dance:

Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke, a key fig­ure in [Don­ald] Trump’s sweep­ing plan to reshape the nation’s envi­ron­men­tal frame­work, will leave his post at the end of the year, Mr. Trump said on Saturday.

Mr. Zinke’s depar­ture comes amid numer­ous ethics inves­ti­ga­tions into his busi­ness deal­ings, trav­el and pol­i­cy decisions.

Like Scott Pruitt, Zinke is so cor­rupt that his behav­ior while in office caused fif­teen inves­ti­ga­tions into his con­duct to be opened. Few in Trump’s cab­i­net aside from Bet­sy DeVos have gen­er­at­ed the kind of antipa­thy that Zinke did.

Of course, we can’t expect Zinke’s suc­ces­sor to pur­sue bet­ter policies.

Rather than an end to Mr. Zinke’s pro-fos­sil fuel poli­cies, the res­ig­na­tion quite like­ly sig­nals a pass­ing of the playbook.

Mr. Zinke’s deputy, David Bern­hardt, a for­mer oil lob­by­ist, is expect­ed to step in as act­ing head of the department.

Bern­hardt will con­tin­ue to do Trump’s bid­ding while mak­ing the news less often.

The like­ly replace­ment by Mr. Bern­hardt of his for­mer boss in an act­ing capac­i­ty echoes events that fol­lowed the res­ig­na­tion of Mr. Pruitt at the [Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency].

Mr. Pruitt, once a favorite of Mr. Trump’s for many of the same rea­sons as Mr. Zinke, was replaced in an act­ing capac­i­ty by his deputy, Andrew Wheel­er, a for­mer coal lob­by­ist with a low pro­file and a deep knowl­edge of the agency he ran and the reg­u­la­tions he sought to undo.

While Mr. Zinke spent his tenure as the face of many of the Trump administration’s efforts, many on the inside saw Mr. Bern­hardt as the effec­tive man­ag­er who was able to push poli­cies through.

Mr. Bern­hardt, with years of expe­ri­ence in the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion, and as a for­mer lawyer and lob­by­ist for some of the nation’s largest oil com­pa­nies, brings a deep insider’s knowl­edge to his job that Mr. Zinke lacked. His for­mer legal clients includ­ed the Inde­pen­dent Petro­le­um Asso­ci­a­tion of Amer­i­ca and Halliburton.

Trump’s 2016 elec­toral col­lege vic­to­ry result­ed in some real­ly ter­ri­ble, immoral peo­ple being put in charge of this coun­try’s pub­lic agencies.

Instead of serv­ing the pub­lic like they’re sup­posed to, they’ve turned our gov­ern­ment into a weapon to use against us.

From their perch­es at Inte­ri­or, Zinke and Bern­hardt have been dis­man­tling envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions, ille­gal­ly shrink­ing Nation­al Mon­u­ments, and open­ing more land to oil and gas drilling. They’ve caused a lot of dam­age in a very short amount of time. And although Zinke is now leav­ing with his tail between his legs, he’s leav­ing Bern­hardt behind to con­tin­ue wreak­ing havoc.

Zinke, Pruitt, DeVos, and their ilk are cer­tain­ly bad… but so are their deputies. We can’t expect things to get bet­ter just because one of the bad faces of Trump’s regime has been pushed out by the impa­tient Nar­cis­sist-in-Chief. The bad poli­cies will con­tin­ue, just under the aus­pices of some­one who’s not as naked­ly corrupt.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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