“Our decisions will be guided by our flag and not kneel to anyone,” a visibly irritated Zinke forcefully told a person who inquired about his meetings with industry leaders, emphasizing the words “not kneel.”
Zinke — who as Interior chief has met with a slew of oil and gas executives and been accused of prioritizing energy development over conservation — said America is at an “energy crossroads.”
“There are two visions for our future in energy,” he said. “One side believes we should retreat into a fortress of regulation and red tape, where foreign nations take the lead as American drowns itself in process and procedure.”
That vision, he said, is not one shared by President Donald Trump, who continues to make a hard push for increased fossil fuel production and what he’s calling “energy dominance.”
“Our goal is an America that is the strongest energy superpower this world has ever known,” Zinke said. “Our country has inherited an energy-dependent country from previous generations, and in recent years we’ve struggled to be self-sufficient at producing low-cost, abundant and reliable energy. But a new era is dawning.”
Interrupted a second time, Zinke continued with his remarks: “As the chief steward of our public lands,” he said, “my job is to make sure that all Americans have a voice ... And I hear that voice loud and clear.”
Zinke managed to quickly drown out the two protesters. At least one was promptly escorted from the event by security, according to ThinkProgress reporter Natasha Geiling.
Friday’s confrontation was reminiscent of a May encounter during a visit to Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, when Zinke forcefully order a protester to “be nice” after being repeatedly questioned about why he didn’t spend more time talking with tribal leaders as part of his controversial national monuments review.
During his speech Friday, Zinke echoed a number of previous talking points, including that it is “better to produce energy here under reasonable regulations” than to have it be produced overseas with no regulation. And he once again stressed that the Trump administration “does not pick winners and losers” when it comes to energy production — a claim not supported by Zinke’s schedule and social media presence.
Zinke said America has an opportunity to power the world while continuing to be stewards of the environment. For too long, he says, “politicians here at home have turned their back on America’s potential for energy dominance.”
“It’s time to stop the bleeding. It’s time to put America first. Under president Trump, American energy — mined and produced by American hands — will make America great again.”
In an emailed statement, Kate Kelly, public lands director at the Center for American Progress and a former senior adviser under former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, said that Zinke’s agenda will “grant fossil fuel industries unprecedented control over public lands.” His speech at Heritage, she added, confirms that “we have entered an era of corporate control, where the relationship between industry and regulator is inverted.”
“In his words today and in his actions over the past nine months, Secretary Zinke has made clear that his time, his agenda, and the resources he is entrusted with protecting are all up for sale,” Kelly said.