January 19, 2017

Udall Statement after Meeting with Rep. Ryan Zinke, Trump's Nominee for Interior Secretary

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and lead Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Department of the Interior budget, made the following statement after meeting one-on-one with Rep. Ryan Zinke, President-elect Trump's nominee to lead the Interior Department:

"I appreciate that Congressman Zinke sat down with me today to discuss his vision for the Department of the Interior, an agency of great significance to New Mexico and the West, and a top priority for me in Congress. He was kind enough to share a copy of his recent book about his career and time in the Navy SEALs, and I thanked him for his service to our country.

"As vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and a representative of 23 tribes and pueblos in New Mexico, there's no more important issue to our Tribal communities than making sure that our nation upholds its treaty obligations and trust responsibilities. I emphasized this to Congressman Zinke today, and he assured me that he intends to be a 'strong advocate' for Native Americans. We had a positive conversation about Tribal issues, and I asked him to help President-elect Trump understand and appreciate the need for Tribal self-determination and consultation on any issue that affects Native American lands and culture.

"Congressman Zinke and I also had a productive discussion on a number of issues important to New Mexico, as well as broader issues regarding public lands and conservation. For example, I emphasized the need for sensitivity and balance with regard to the region around Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. Chaco and its surrounding area hold enormous significance to Southwestern Tribes, but it also is in the middle of one of the most productive oil and gas regions in the country. I asked him to continue the work being done by the BLM and BIA to revise the Resource Management Plan for the San Juan Basin - the first-ever joint effort between the two agencies. He said he will seek to ensure that public lands are managed according to local considerations. If confirmed, he will be reviewing a number of ongoing policies and programs as part of a new administration. I hope he now understands the importance of the ongoing Chaco RMP process.

"Congressman Zinke and I also discussed the importance of public lands to our American heritage and economy. And as a fellow Westerner, he made clear that he appreciates that public lands mean more than recreation opportunities - they are an important way to stimulate jobs and economic development in rural communities. The recently designated Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains Desert Peaks national monuments have already helped create jobs, and New Mexicans overwhelmingly support them. So I'm very concerned about the effort by some Republicans in Congress to roll back recent national monument designations and sell off federal lands. I asked Congressman Zinke to honor monument designations in New Mexico and others, such as the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. While I would have liked to hear stronger support for protecting public lands throughout the country and a pledge not to roll back protections and designations that are already in place, I don't believe that Congressman Zinke will push to change the status of New Mexico's monuments.

"I will continue to review Congressman Zinke's answers to my questions, and his responses to other senators as I consider how I will vote on his nomination."