Ryan Zinke should forgive Californians for any skepticism as he confers with Gov. Jerry Brown on his first visit to California as President Donald Trump’s Interior secretary.
The former state senator and congressman from Montana arrives in Sacramento on Thursday representing a president who denies climate change, advocates a revival of coal and urges that more federal lands be opened to greater resource extraction. All of that is anathema to the views of most Californians.
And yet we cannot help but hope that Zinke will become an advocate for the environment. He did, after all, ride a horse to work on his first day as Interior secretary. Gimmicky, yes. But it sent a message. And Zinke grew up next to Glacier National Park and sees himself in the mold of Theodore Roosevelt, one of this nation’s great champions of wilderness.
Zinke has California roots. His wife is from the Central Coast. He graduated from University of San Diego and was stationed in San Diego during his service as a Navy SEAL. On this visit to California, Zinke should expect that Brown will discuss the existential threat posed by climate change and the impact of sea level rise on the state’s water delivery system.
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Brown will want to discuss Interior’s role in his proposal to alter the state’s plumbing by constructing twin tunnels to divert water from the main channel of the Sacramento River in the Delta south to the Silicon Valley, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.
No doubt an elephant in the governor’s conference room will be the humble Delta smelt, a pinky-sized creature facing extinction. Whether the tunnels are built or not, Californians need water and a healthy environment. But there are many issues beyond the Delta for Zinke’s consideration:
Zinke plans to visit Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks. They are glorious this year, with snow-packed peaks, rushing waterfalls and flora and fauna newly fortified by heavy rains that mercifully ended six years of drought.
Zinke’s boss donated his salary from his first three months in the White House to the national parks. Alas, that $78,833 is but a mosquito on a mule deer’s posterior. Trump proposes to slice $1.2 billion from the Parks Service, even though there is $12 billion in deferred maintenance at the parks, including nearly $2 billion in California. Zinke must fight that attack, and protect national parks from commercialization.
Tahoe: Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy last December fashioned bipartisan legislation that promises but does not allocate $415 million for the Lake Tahoe Basin in California and Nevada.
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., was among the legislation’s advocates. Given that Heller could face a tough reelection fight in 2018, Zinke and Trump should see it in their interest to support funding for Tahoe.
In its final days, George W. Bush’s administration helped resolve a long running water war among farmers, Indians and a utility, PacifiCorp, by reaching an agreement to remove four obsolete hydro-electric dams on the Klamath River in California and Oregon. However, Congress has refused to approve the money needed to reverse damage caused by the dams. Zinke should become a champion of Klamath’s restoration.
To the south, the California Resources Agency, the state equivalent of Interior, last month announced a 10-year plan to limit toxic dust blowing off the shrinking Salton Sea lake bed, and to restore habitat for migrating birds. The state will pick up much of the $400 million tab. But the feds have responsibility, too.
We hope that Zinke enjoys his visit and is inspired to fight the good battle on behalf of the environment, federal lands and our national parks.