Tester meets with Zinke about interior post

by Tom Lutey, Billings Gazette

BILLINGS – U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., met with Congressman Ryan Zinke on Tuesday to discuss the representative’s potential confirmation as President-elect Donald Trump’s head of the Interior Department.

In a press release, Tester said he asked Zinke about the nominee’s commitment to public lands, conservation, the environment and Indian treaty rights.

“I had a good talk with Congressman Zinke about the future of Montana’s public lands, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, responsible natural resource development, and upholding trust and treaty responsibilities in Indian Country,” Tester said. “It is important that the next Interior secretary is committed to protecting Montana’s outdoor way of life, and understands the threats facing those of us who love to hike, hunt, and fish on our public lands.”

Tester did not relay Zinke’s responses. However Tester’s staff said Zinke downplayed a recent vote on a House rules bill, which included language changing the way Congress values land for the purpose of transferring property to states, local governments and Indian tribes.

Tester said last week the rules change cleared the way for auction-style bidding on public land.

Tester repeated his opposition to proposed gold mining in Paradise Valley near Yellowstone National Park’s north gate.

Zinke is expected to receive a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the next few weeks. If the committee approves Zinke, Tester will get a chance to vote on confirmation during a vote of the entire Senate.