As former US secretary of the interior Ryan Zinke exits Washington chased by ethics investigations and criticism of his actions favoring industry, he told reporters that he has lived up to the conservation ideals of former US president Theodore Roosevelt and said that the myriad allegations against him would be proven untrue.
The former Montana congressman also said he quit US President Donald Trump’s Cabinet on his own terms, despite indications that he was pressured by the White House to resign effective on Wednesday.
During almost two years overseeing an agency responsible for managing 200 million hectares of public lands, Zinke’s broad rollbacks of restrictions on oil and gas drilling were cheered by industry.
However, they brought a scathing backlash from environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers who accused him of putting corporate profits ahead of preservation.
In his first interview since stepping down, Zinke said the changes he instituted meshed with Roosevelt’s belief in balance between nature and industry.
They were needed in part to unfetter energy companies bound by unreasonable curbs on drilling that were largely imposed under former US president Barack Obama, he said.
“Teddy Roosevelt said conservation is as much development as it is preservation,” Zinke said, referencing a 1910 speech by the Republican president. “Much of our work returned the American conservation ethic to best science, best practices ... rather than an elitist view of non-management that lets nature take its course.”
Zinke mentioned Roosevelt often during his tenure and historian Patricia Limerick said it is accurate that the former president talked of development as a component of conservation.
However, Limerick said Zinke’s recommendations to Trump to reduce the size of national monuments in the West and elsewhere was in direct contrast to Roosevelt’s embrace of the law that allowed their creation, the Antiquities Act of 1906.
“You don’t get to call yourself a follower of Roosevelt if you’re really chiseling away at one of his principal heritages,” said Limerick, who chairs the board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado.
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