WASHINGTON – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his department’s policies were criticized as an “unprecedented” attack on public lands and the environment Tuesday by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell during an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.
Zinke explained to the committee President Donald Trump’s 2019 Interior budget request of $11.7 billion, down from the $13.5 billion budget for fiscal 2017 that has been continued into 2018.
Cantwell pressed Zinke about his alleged use of public funds for travel on private jets and reports of replacing doors in his office at a cost of $138,000. The issues are under investigation by his department’s inspector general.
“I never took a private jet anywhere,” Zinke shot back at the hearing. “I resent the fact of your insults, and I resent the fact that you mislead.”
Cantwell’s criticism included the interior department’s consideration to expand offshore drilling leases and internal agency documents describing the potential for oil and gas exploration at Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
Cantwell also criticized a decision to raise national park fees, including entrance fees at Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks. She said the higher fees will hurt Washington businesses and communities.
Zinke said discounted rates at national parks for the elderly and veterans, among others, are hurting the parks.
“When you have a park like Rainier, the money that they receive coming in the front gate, I want to make sure more of it goes to that park superintendent so he has flexibility in how he spends it,” Zinke said. “American parks belong to the public and everyone should have access.”