Image via Getty.
Image via Getty.

In a kicky little display of authoritarian bravura, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke contended that one third of his department’s workforce, which would amount to around 20,000 federal employees, are “not loyal to the flag.” This was during a speech he gave to the National Petroleum Council, a longstanding federal advisory committee that is effectively a lobbying arm for oil industry executives—in whose company Secretary Zinke, like his counterpart at the EPA, seems particularly comfortable. God bless America!


From the Associated Press report:

In a speech to an oil industry group, Zinke compared Interior to a pirate ship that captures “a prized ship at sea and only the captain and the first mate row over” to finish the mission.

“We do have good people” at Interior, he said, “but the direction has to be clear and you’ve got to hold people accountable.”


That’s right: the Secretary of Interior, who recently recommended that four national monuments be downsized (and ostensibly opened up to extractive industries) in what Wilderness Society president Jamie Williams called “an unprecedented assault on our parks and public lands,” has referred to himself as a pirate. At last, transparency! (Although I thought he was supposed to be a cowboy?)

Wait, okay, one more thing:

“Fracking is proof that God’s got a good sense of humor and he loves us,” Zinke said without explanation.


Just for some added context here, Zinke’s top hires at the Interior Department—out of respect for his pirate metaphor, let’s call them “first mates”—include David Bernhardt, an oil and gas lobbyist and former Bush administration official whom Democrats called a “walking conflict of interest”; Kathy Benedetto, who is, among other things, a co-founder of the Women’s Mining Coalition; and Scott Angelle, a former Sunoco board member who “suddenly resigned” from his position as Louisiana Secretary of Natural Resources in 2012 when a giant sinkhole opened up on his watch (a year earlier, a paper mill spill caused a massive die-off of thousands of fish).


In the same speech to oil industry executives, the AP reports, Zinke also said that the Endangered Species Act has been “abused” and needs to be less “arbitrary.” If his ideas regarding the sage grouse are any indication, by this Zinke means that the Endangered Species Act should be less focused on protecting endangered species.

I’m not a scientist or anything, but if anybody is being disloyal, it’s probably the guy who’s working in opposition to the conservation mission of their department, no?


Correction: A previous version of this post misstated the number of people working in the Interior Department. The Department employs 70,000 people, a third of which is around 20-25,000.

Ellie is a freelance writer and former senior writer at Jezebel. She is pursuing a master's degree in science journalism at Columbia University in the fall.

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