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Ryan Zinke makes his 'energy dominance' pitch to Montanans

The Climate 202

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Ryan Zinke makes his 'energy dominance' pitch to Montanans

Ryan Zinke, who led the Interior Department under Donald Trump before resigning under a cloud of ethics investigations, has a good shot at winning Montana's new House seat.

His potential political resurgence shows the lingering influence of Trump's pro-fossil-fuels agenda in a state facing extreme drought fueled by climate change.

Zinke, a former Navy SEAL and House member, is vying to represent Montana’s newly created 1st District in the western part of the state. He's running against four other Republicans in the primary election scheduled for June 7, although he has raised by far the most money of any GOP candidate.

As interior secretary from 2017 to 2018, Zinke took numerous steps to spur America's fossil fuel production as part of Trump's “energy dominance” agenda. He pushed to expand drilling on public lands and waters, and he eased requirements that oil and gas companies operating on public lands capture methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Zinke has now made domestic energy production a central part of his campaign. Like many congressional Republicans, he has sought to blame President Biden's restrictions on oil and gas leasing for rising gasoline prices.

“Under Ryan Zinke’s leadership at the Department of the Interior, the U.S. achieved Energy Dominance, increased federal energy revenues, and responsibly opened federal acreage for energy production,” Trump, who has endorsed Zinke, said in a statement. “He will be a strong leader for the great Patriots of Montana.” 

Ethics probes

Zinke resigned from the Trump administration in December 2018, a few months after Interior's inspector general referred one of its ethics investigations to the Justice Department

  • The probe examined whether a land deal in Whitefish that Zinke struck with the chairman of oil services giant Halliburton constituted a conflict of interest.
  • In a report released in February, Interior's inspector general found that Zinke had repeated contact with Halliburton and the project's other developers but then lied about it to an ethics official. Justice ultimately declined to bring charges.

Montana Conservation Voters, a nonpartisan environmental group, endorsed Zinke for his state Senate bid in 2008. But Whitney Tawney, the group's executive director, told The Climate 202 that she was later “embarrassed” to have backed him.

“After he climbed the ladder of power from state legislator to congressman to interior secretary, we really feel like he turned his back on Montana and embarrassed us with his anti-public-lands record and a long list of scandals,” Tawney said.

Zinke's campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this report.

Drought and Democratic criticism

The race comes as about 85 percent of Montana is parched by moderate to extreme drought. Scientists have said the drought would have been less severe without global warming driven by the burning of fossil fuels.

Monica Tranel, one of three Democrats vying to run against Zinke in the November election, has criticized Zinke's continued support for — and close financial ties to — the fossil fuel industry.

Tranel, an energy lawyer who last week won a case implicating the utility NorthWestern Energy, sent an April letter to ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance urging the company to drop Zinke from the payroll. She cited the $460,000 in consulting fees that Zinke received over two years and disclosed as part of his campaign.

“Ryan Zinke has a long history of selling out Montanans for his own gain and lying to investigators,” Sam Sterling, a spokesman for Tranel's campaign, told The Climate 202. “What we're seeking is a disclosure of what Ryan Zinke did for ConocoPhillips and whether he's using that to benefit himself and his congressional race.”

ConocoPhillips spokesman Dennis Nuss said in an email to The Climate 202 that Zinke “performed consulting and advisory services and those services ended a few months ago. He never lobbied on behalf of ConocoPhillips and has not served on our board.”

California dreamin'?

Meanwhile, Zinke has faced questions about whether he lives in Montana since last week, when Politico reported that his wife has designated a home in Santa Barbara as her primary residence.

“This is just another example of Ryan not being fully honest and transparent with the people of Montana about where exactly he lives,” Montana state Sen. Albert Olszewski (R), who is Zinke's closest primary rival, told Politico.

Zinke's campaign strenuously denied the Politico report in a Twitter thread that read in part: “Politico continues its weird obsession with harassing and making up stories about Ryan and his family. No matter how creatively you word it, Ryan Zinke does not live in or own property in California. He lives in Whitefish where he grew up.”

Zinke, who famously rode to work dressed like a cowboy on horseback, also poked fun at the allegations on Instagram.

International climate

E.U. unveils $315 billion strategy to phase out Russian energy, invests in wind power

The European Union on Wednesday rolled out a $315 billion plan to help the 27-nation bloc wean itself off Russian energy, seeking to promote energy efficiency and the faster build-out of renewable power, the Associated Press reports. 

The goal of the package, dubbed REPowerEU, is to strengthen the bloc's climate goals and deprive Russia of a key source of revenue amid the war in Ukraine. To gain the support of Hungary, which has been highly critical of an immediate oil phaseout because of economic concerns, the package is set to provide about 2 billion euros to member nations that are highly dependent on Russian oil to ease their vulnerability. 

At the same time, four E.U. nations — Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark — on Wednesday announced plans to build wind farms in the North Sea, Jan M. Olsen reports for the AP. 

The plan “means that we are able, the four of us, to deliver more than half of all offshore wind needed to reach climate neutrality in the European Union,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at a signing event in Denmark.

On the Hill

Senate Republicans hammer Biden on gasoline prices

Senate Republicans on Wednesday sought to blame President Biden's climate policies for rising energy costs, as the average price for a gallon of gasoline reached $4 in all 50 states.

Biden “is so beholden to the climate extremists,” Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.) said during a news conference at the Capitol. “That's the altar at which he worships.”

Barrasso, the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, argued that gas prices would be lower if the Interior Department had not nixed three offshore oil and gas lease sales that had been scheduled. However, any areas leased this year would probably not start producing for several years.

Other speakers at the news conference included Sen. John Neely Kennedy (La.), who asserted that Biden's climate strategy is “wind, solar and wishful thinking,” and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), who chided Democrats for seeking to blame high fuel costs on alleged “price gouging” by oil companies and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Rep. Stansbury introduces two bipartisan climate and water bills

Rep. Melanie Ann Stansbury (D-N.M.), a freshman lawmaker active on climate policy, will introduce two bipartisan bills Thursday aimed at addressing water security as a climate-change-fueled drought threatens much of the West.

  • The Water Data Act would establish a national framework for sharing, integrating and using updated water data and would create a grant program to invest in water data sharing tools. The bill has 13 co-sponsors, including Republican Reps. Yvette Herrell (N.M.) and Burgess Owens (Utah).
  • The Rio Grande Water Security Act would enhance the flexibility of water managers in New Mexico's Rio Grande Basin. The measure has four co-sponsors.

In the Senate, the companion legislation is sponsored by Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, both New Mexico Democrats. Because of Senate procedural considerations, the bills have been combined into a package that Stansbury's office has dubbed the “Aquabus.”

Agency alert

Energy Department adopts efficiency standards for mobile homes

The Energy Department on Wednesday adopted energy efficiency standards for manufactured housing, which is commonly referred to as mobile homes.

The standards will help consumers save hundreds of dollars on their utility bills and will reduce carbon pollution by 80 million metric tons — equivalent to the energy-related emissions of more than 10 million homes in one year, the department said in a news release.

The rules, spurred by a court order, have sparked a fierce debate about costs, equity and the future of manufactured housing.

Extreme events

Climate change has made India’s relentless heat 100 times more likely

The heat that has baked northwest India and Pakistan since March was probably made 100 times more likely by human-caused climate change, according to an analysis published Wednesday by the UK Met Office, The Washington Post's Kasha Patel and Niha Masih report. The researchers noted that heat that used to occur every 300 years may now happen almost every three years.  

Temperatures in the region have already shattered previous records set during a heat event in 2010. They are expected to soar as high as 122 degrees Fahrenheit in Pakistan today and tomorrow. According to the analysis, temperatures in the region could be as hot as the historic 2010 event practically every year by the end of the century unless greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically curbed. 

In the atmosphere


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