The Energy 202: Zinke is gone. But this House Democrat still want his testimony.
It was only about three weeks after the midterm elections, and tensions had reached a boiling point between one of President Trump's Cabinet members and the top Democrat set to oversee his department next year.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, called on Ryan Zinke to resign over his “ethical and managerial failings.” In response, the interior secretary accused Grijalva of being a drunk.
After that remarkably personal and public attack from a Cabinet official to a member of Congress, the two were on a collision course with Democrats set to take the reins of the House come January.
Grijalva promised to bring Zinke before his committee to testify. He wanted to know more about a potential conflict-of-interest-ridden land deal in his home state of Montana with the chairman of oil services giant Halliburton, one of the companies Zinke's agency regulates.
That showdown was not meant to be. Zinke resigned on Saturday amid an investigation into that dealing before Grijalva could take the gavel in January.
But Grijalva says he is still interested in getting Zinke's testimony. And even with Zinke out, the Arizona Democrat still has an aggressive oversight agenda for the Interior Department.
He is setting his sights not just on Zinke's remaining deputies but on an entire “culture” at interior created under Zinke of allegedly catering to the interests of miners and drillers, he said in an interview with The Post on Wednesday.
“It's a culture now that we're investigating,” Grijalva said. “A culture that has shifted dramatically from what the mission of Interior has been in the past.”
As Grijalva sees it, the Interior Department has strayed from its mission to administer public lands for several uses — giving Americans spots to recreate outdoors, harvest timber and graze cattle while preserving natural and historic resources — to one that focuses too narrowly on one of those services: extraction.
Grijalva said he wants to know what is driving the Trump administration to, for example, remove protections from nearly 2 million acres of potentially mineral-rich canyonlands in two national monuments in Utah and to accelerate seismic testing for oil and gas under 1.5 million acres of coastal plain in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
“Zinke gone doesn't eliminate the fact that we need to look into that decision-making process,” Grijalva said.
The man that many, including Grijalva, see as being the architect behind much of the department's policy is still at the agency. Grijalva said he plans to bring that official, David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist who Trump picked as deputy secretary of the Interior Department who is set to lead the agency on an acting basis, before his committee.
Beyond investigating interior, Grijalva said he wants to permanently reauthorize the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund, which funnels oil and gas revenue from public lands to the expansion of parks and wildlife refuges. He would also like to create another fund dedicated to improve roads, bridges and other infrastructure on parklands.
The permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund was one of several land issues that emerged as a "last-minute snag" Wednesday to the swift passage of a must-pass spending bill in the Senate, The Post's Erica Werner, Paul Kane and Josh Dawsey report. The chamber dropped the language and punted the issue to the next Congress.
As for the scrutiny of interior, Grijalva insists those inquiries will not be motivated by bad blood between him and the agency's former leader.
After publishing an op-ed in USA Today calling for Zinke to leave office, the interior secretary defended himself by bringing up a three-year-old settlement paid to a former female staffer who accused Grijalva of creating a hostile work environment by being drunk.
“It's hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle,” Zinke tweeted. “This is coming from a man who used nearly $50,000 in tax dollars as hush money to cover up his drunken and hostile behavior.”
Citing health concerns, Grijalva decided to cancel an interview scheduled for that afternoon on C-SPAN. But he declined to respond in kind with an ad hominem attack.
“Once I jumped in that sty," he said, "I was going to be stuck wrestling in there for a while.”
Only a few weeks later, Zinke submitted his resignation letter to Trump, saying he was no longer willing to endure the “vicious and politically motivated attacks” he said were being made against him.
Grijalva has acknowledged that he once had a drinking program, but he says it's now under control. On Tuesday, the House Ethics Committee, which had been investigating that complaint from the former staffer, dismissed the allegations of wrongdoing by Grijalva in connection with the payment earlier this month.
By: Dino Grandoni
Source: Raúl M. Grijalva
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