Ryan Zinke in Denver makes a case for energy production on public lands

Author: Joey Bunch - July 22, 2017 - Updated: February 3, 2018

Ryan ZinkeInterior Secretary Ryan Zinke declares the war on American energy over on stage at the Western Conservative Summit. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told the Western Conservative Summit Friday night that America should open up its public lands and shores for more energy production.

“I can tell ya, the war on American energy is over,” said the former Montana congressman who is chief steward of the nation’s parks and public lands. He received perhaps the longest applause of the evening from the largest annual collection of conservatives outside of Washington, D.C.

Zinke has actions behind his mission.  Last month the department  issued an order to speed the permitting for oil and gas drilling on federal lands. And President Trump signed an executive order in April to boost offshore drilling.

The secretary made his case Friday night in Denver with numbers, needs and patriotic emotions.

He said national parks are about $11.5 billion behind in maintenance and repairs, and public lands and wildlife refuges are about $15 billion in need. The year before President Obama took office, the department made about $18 billion a year from offshore drilling, but the figure had fallen just $2.6 last year.

Zinke said the decline was a consequence of putting 94 percent of the nation’s shores off limits to drilling, of not harvesting trees and the “consequence of locking and shutting American energy, access and recreation off of our lands.”

Conservation Colorado predicted accurately what Zinke might say, when Colorado Politics reported he was scheduled to speak in private to the pro-business American Legislative Exchange Council gathering in Denver Thursday.

Jessica Goad, the spokeswoman for the state’s largest environmental organization, said it spoke “volumes about the Interior secretary’s priorities,” meaning opening up more public lands for production. Friday night he left no doubt.

Zinke shifted from numbers to emotions. A Navy SEAL for from 1996 to 2008, he told the crowd he never wanted their grandchildren to see what he’s seen.

“I’ve fought in a lot of countries, and I never want to see our children have to go to war … over resources we have here,” Zinke said.

Zinke said it’s better to produce energy in this country with reasonable regulations than around the globe where there could be none.

A geologist (who also was a starting center for the University Oregon football team) said when he was being educated he was taught “definitively” America would run out of domestic energy by 2003.

“God has a sense of humor,” Zinke said. “He gave us fracking.”

He said fracking has made the difference. “We don’t have to be held hostage by our foreign  enemies.”

When a heckler began shouting inaudibly at Zinke, the Interior secretary gave the person a lingering look, a sly smile and cocked his head as he leaned back.

“I can tell you something,” he said, raising his index finger, pointing then leaning his head forward, as the crowd began to chant “Trump, Trump, Trump.”

“We won,” Zinke said with pauses for added punctuation. “We won. For the right reason.”

The summit continues Saturday with speeches from Reagan Education Secretary William Bennett, former Colorado Congressman Bob Beauprez, Colorado Ken Buck and Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow.

On stage at different junctures over the weekend, Colorado Politics interviewed Republican gubernatorial candidates Victor Mitchell, Steve Barlock, Doug Robinson and George Brauchler.

Colorado Politics will fill you in on what they said and how they compare Sunday, after summit participants complete a straw poll of the gubernatorial candidates.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.