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Interior nominee Zinke clears Senate hurdle on way to confirmation

02 March 2017

The Senate on Wednesday morning overwhelmingly approved Rep. Ryan Zinke to lead the Interior Department, overcoming objections from Democratic leadership to yet another of President Trump's cabinet nominees.

Zinke served as a Navy SEAL for 22 years, from 1986 until 2008, and is the first former SEAL to ascend to leading a department of the federal government.

He supports enabling companies to drill for natural gas on public lands, a policy that some members of Congress have cited as a potential source of revenue for offsetting the cost of Trump's proposed trillion dollars spending in infrastructure. "As the sole congressman for Montana, he championed tribal interests on important issues, including water rights, economic and natural resource development, as well as safety and services for Indian children and women".

Earthjustice's Drew Caputo, a vice president for the environmental group, urged Zinke not to overturn one of President Obama's last acts in office: granting national monument status to the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

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On the other hand, Zinke also has been a strong protector of public lands in the West. The position will require a careful balance between protection of land with Trump's stated eagerness to increase fossil fuel production, Politico reported Wednesday.

Zinke earned a degree in geology from the University of OR in 1984 and joined the military two years later.

Seventeen Democrats in the Senate joined Republicans in voting to approve him. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) did not cast a vote.

Senate Energy Committee chairman Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, called Zinke's nomination "solid" and emphasized the new secretary's passion for hunting and fishing.