74°F
weather icon Clear

Interior secretary stepping down; Heller seen as possible replacement

Updated December 17, 2018 - 8:22 am

WASHINGTON Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke submitted his resignation Saturday to President Donald Trump, who announced that the former Navy SEAL from Montana would leave at the end of the year, raising speculation on replacements who include Nevada Sen. Dean Heller.

“Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation,” Trump said in a morning tweet from a social media account.

Zinke is the subject of multiple investigations, and Trump hinted weeks ago that he might replace the former Montana congressman.

Immediate speculation of possible replacements included Heller, the only Republican Senate incumbent to lose on Nov. 6, and other potential candidates with a background in public land policy.

In an interview with the Review-Journal before the Zinke announcement, Heller left open the possibility that he would accept an administration appointment, whether it be Interior or another Cabinet-level or departmental position.

The senator was not actively seeking a post, and when asked if he would accept an appointment, he replied: “I don’t have the answer to that question.”

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in Nevada for Heller, who lost to freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen in an election that saw Democrats sweep federal and almost all state offices.

Heller said he had not been approached by anyone in the administration about a possible appointment, and said he would return to Nevada to contemplate his future.

“I do know what I’m going to do initially,” Heller said. “And that’s spend more time with (wife) Lynne.”

Heller was not immediately available for comment Saturday.

Other possible replacements

The Washington Post reported several other possible contenders to replace Zinke, including Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, and Rep. Bob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Bishop will become the ranking member on the Natural Resources panel on Jan. 3 when Democrats take control of the House.

Bishop was instrumental in getting the Trump administration to reduce the size of several national monuments designated for protection by President Barack Obama, including Gold Butte in Nevada.

Heller also sought a reduction in the size of Gold Butte and Basin and Range national monuments, and urged the Trump administration to reduce the boundaries. Zinke recommended a small reduction for Gold Butte, but Trump has not acted on that recommendation.

Pressure from Bishop and the Utah congressional delegation led to a large rollback of the boundaries at Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

‘Unmitigated disaster’

Shrinking the national monuments was engineered by Zinke, who drew intense criticism from environmental groups, Democrats and tribal leaders who accused the administration of favoring special interests in land use policy.

“Ryan Zinke was an unmitigated disaster for Nevada’s wildlife and public lands,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Donnelly said Zinke put 1 million acres of Nevada lands on the auction block for oil drilling and fracking, denied endangered species protections and allowed “violent zealots” to run cattle and “trash our precious Gold Butte National Monument.

“Good riddance to the worst Interior secretary America has ever known,” Donnelly said.

Praise from Murkowski

But Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, praised Zinke for taking a different approach to public land management and listening to all interests when developing policy.

“He has been a strong partner for western states and for Alaska, in particular,” Murkowski said.

She credited Zinke for his priority on energy dominance, opening up Alaska lands for oil development, and eliminating the maintenance backlog at National Parks.

“Secretary Zinke has done a lot of good things for our country,” Murkowski said.

But Zinke’s tenure at the Interior Department was marred by investigations into ethical lapses, extravagant spending and a questionable land deal with an energy firm in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana.

House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Zinke was the subject of 15 investigations over official misconduct and misuse of taxpayer’s funds.

“Americans are confronted with an administration of unprecedented corruption, cronyism and incompetence, which has shown zero respect for the office or taxpayers’ money,” Pelosi said.

Zinke was cleared of wrongdoing by the Interior Department Office of Special Counsel for a June 2017 chartered airplane trip from Las Vegas to Montana after a giving a speech to the Golden Knights hockey team.

The team is owned by billionaire Bill Foley, whose financial firm was a large donor to Zinke’s congressional race.

The chartered aircraft cost taxpayers $12,375, and was cleared by Interior ethics officials, who said they were unaware of the connection between Zinke and Foley.

With Zinke leaving, Bernhardt will become the acting secretary and can serve in the role for months before the president must nominate a permanent successor who must receive Senate confirmation.

Bernhardt first served in the Interior Department under President George W. Bush. He joined a lobbying firm in 2009 following his tenure as official counsel to the interior secretary.

He was confirmed as Interior deputy secretary under Zinke in 2017, where he worked on the administration’s review of the 2015 sage grouse protections agreed to by Western states, conservation groups and industries.

The deputy also launched a review of the Endangered Species Act, which drew criticism from Democrats and conservation groups.

“Trump is just replacing one scandal-plagued secretary with the ultimate D.C. swamp creature and ex-lobbyist David Bernhardt,” said Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project in Whitefish, Montana.

A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the status of a recommendation by Zinke to reduce the size of Gold Butte National Monument. Zinke recommended a small reduction for Gold Butte, but Trump has not acted on that recommendation.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
Cory Booker speaks at UNLV
US Senator Cory Booker speaks at UNLV during a Young Democrats meet and greet on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
May-Brown describes why some with disabilities need the subminimum wage - VIDEO
Eliminating the subminimum wage will end training and work opportunities for some members of the disabled community. Instead of doing something productive, they would be relegated to adult day care. That’s according to Tracy May-Brown, Opportunity Village’s director of advocacy, board and government relations.
Commission’s decision will delay Red Rock Canyon development
The Clark County Commission Wednesday rejected a developer’s request to approve a preliminary plan for 3,000 homes overlooking Red Rock Canyon before a federal agency grants permission for a roadway leading to the site.
Clark County commissioner calls on landlords to bring properties up to code
Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom has called on landlords in older parts of the valley to bring their properties up to code and keep them well-maintained or face the prospect of inspections, fines and citations. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Harry Reid speaks out against anti-Semitism
Unnerved by the rise in anti-Semitic hate speech and the general pervasiveness of bigotry, including in Nevada, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid organized an educational forum at UNLV on Thursday as part of his call to unite people against it. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
President Trump speaks to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and updated on Israeli relations. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump says border wall will have 'hundreds of miles' built by end of next year
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and discussed the progress of the border wall and the current relations there. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Protesters disrupt Trump's speech
Just as President Donald Trump started to make his opening remarks during his appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting, protesters disrupted his speech. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Roerink On The Problems With Taking Water From Eastern Nevada - Video
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to take billions of gallons of water that doesn’t exist from Eastern Nevada via a pipeline that would cost ratepayers $15 billion. Doing so would devastate the wildlife and people who live there. That’s according to Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, which opposes the pipeline.
Las Vegas Election Night Wrap-Up
The Review-Journal's Politics and Government Editor, Steve Sebelius, wraps up election night. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Olivia Diaz Speaks To Ward 3 Supporters After Primary Election - Video
Olivia Diaz speaks to her supporters at a election party after results started coming in for the Ward 3 primaries.
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (edited)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife, Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (Full)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Gun Debate Shows Limits Of Government - Video
On Monday, the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees held a joint hearing on Assembly Bill 291. It would ban bump stocks and allow local governments to pass additional restrictions on firearms.
Lucy Flores speaks out about Biden incident
Former Nevada assemblywoman, Lucy Flores, expresses her feelings about an incident with former Vice President Joe Biden in 2014. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Harry Reid takes the stand in injury lawsuit
Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid took the stand on Thursday in the product liability lawsuit brought against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Jurors hear opening statements in Reid personal injury trial
Opening statements were made on Tuesday in the product liability lawsuit brought by Harry Reid against against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Mayor Goodman delivers Meals on Wheels
Mayor Carolyn Goodman delivers Meals on Wheels to seniors on March 26, 2019.
Las Vegas City Council Ward 1 race
Candidates for Las Vegas City Council Ward 1. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Beto O’Rourke campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke addresses attendees during a campaign stop at Arandas Taqueria in Las Vegas on Sunday, March 24, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Beto O'Rourke House Party in Las Vegas
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke delivered a message of unity inside a Las Vegas living room Saturday night, outlining a mission to bridge the divide in a polarized America and rally behind “big defining ambitions that we have in common.” (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand talks at Atomic Liquors
Democrat presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand talks to her supporters at Atomic Liquors.
Presidential candidate Gillibrand meets with UNLV Immigration Clinic student attorneys
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., meets with UNLV Immigration Clinic student attorneys at her first stop in Nevada as a candidate Thursday, March 21, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto promotes the Rebuild America’s Schools Act
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., co-sponsor of the Rebuild America’s Schools Act, speaks at Hoggard Elementary School in Las Vegas to promote the bill that would provide $100 billion for infrastructure improvements at schools across the country. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Scholar Max Eden on how restorative justice decreases student achievement - VIDEO
Across the country, restorative justice is lowering test scores and increasing the number of students who feel unsafe at schools. That’s according to Max Eden, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, who recently released a study discipline reform.
NV Dems Want To Gut Read By Three - Video
Nevada’s students have a major problem. They aren’t very good at reading. In 2017, just 31 percent of fourth graders were proficient at reading according to the National Assessment of Education Progress. The number proficient falls to 28 percent in eighth grade. Read by Three could change that. If a student can’t read at grade level by the end of third grade, he repeats the grade.
Presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard stumps in Las Vegas
Presidential hopeful U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, holds a meet and greet at the Asian Culture Center in downtown Las Vegas Monday, March 18, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Nye County pushes back against state gun bill
Gun store owner Robby Brentlinger and John Koenig, Chairman of the Nye County Board of Commissioners, discuss their thoughts on gun rights and Nevada Senate Bill 143. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Atkinson pleads guilty
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge Monday.
Atkinson pleads guilty to wire fraud charges
U.S. Attorney’s Office announces plea deal for charges against former Nevada Senate majority leader Kelvin Atkinson during a press conference on Monday, March 11, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson pleads guilty
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge Monday, less than a week after resigning from his post. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Melania Trump Speaks Out About Opioid Epidemic - VIDEO
Melania Trump speaks at the Westgate hotel about the Opioid epidemic in the United State and how this generation can be the group that ends it.
Nevada Legislative Session Preview: Education, Yucca Mountain and Microchips
The Nevada Legislature will be meeting to look at new bills that involve education and marriage age restrictions. Governor Sisolak has also requested to meet with the White House about the plutonium shipments sent to Nevada.
Cortez Masto, Rosen For Infanticide - VIDEO
If an abortionist — armed with scissors, clamps and a vacuum cleaner — can’t kill a baby while she’s still in the womb, he shouldn’t get another chance after she’s born. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen disagree.
Abortion Bill Would Decriminalize Causing A Pregnant Woman To Miscarry - VIDEO
If abortion advocates believed their own rhetoric, they’d oppose the Trust Nevada Women Act.
Las Vegas city council candidate Diaz talks about Badlands, public safety and homelessness
The residents of Las Vegas’ Ward 3 aren’t thinking about the development issues surrounding Badlands golf course. They do, however, want more neighborhood police patrols to increase public safety. Other jurisdictions should help the City of Las Vegas with its growing homelessness population. That’s according to former Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz who’s running for the Ward 3 city council seat.
Nevada State Senate Looks At Red Light Cameras - VIDEO
The Nevada State Senate looks at a bill that will add red light cameras to all of the traffic lights in Las Vegas.
THE LATEST
GOP scorns Amash’s impeachment call, but does not punish

Top House Republican Kevin McCarthy pushed back Tuesday against Rep. Justin Amash and his call for President Donald Trump’s impeachment, saying the Michigan Republican is out of step with others in the party.

Dual Capitol Hill briefings focus on Trump’s Iran policy shifts

Competing closed-door sessions on Capitol Hill Tuesday, unusual and potentially polarizing, come after weeks of escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf.

Cohen campaign finance probe remains active, say prosecutors

Prosecutors aren’t quite finished investigating campaign finance violations by President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer. A judge is keeping some search warrants sealed.

Trump team to brief Congress on Iran; Dems seek counterpoint

WASHINGTON — As questions mount over President Donald Trump’s tough talk on Iran, top national security officials are heading to Capitol Hill to brief Congress. But skeptical Democrats have asked for a second opinion.