The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Interior Department Watchdog: Zinke Family Travel Violated Department Policies
The internal watchdog of the Department of the Interior (DOI) concluded Thursday that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke violated department travel policies by having his family members ride in government vehicles, The Hill reported.
The report, by the DOI's Office of Inspector General (OIG) also confirmed that Zinke and his wife Lolita cost taxpayers more than $25,000 when they travelled through Greece and Turkey with a Park Police security detail, though there were no policies against them doing so.
"Being exposed for abusing his power to rip-off the taxpayer while benefiting himself provides all the proof that should be needed to fire Ryan Zinke," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement following the report.
Zinke has been a controversial Interior Secretary because of his pro-oil and gas drilling stance and his dubious ethical behavior, including a conflict of interest with oil-giant Halliburton. There are three other investigations underway within the DOI into his actions in office, The Guardian reported.
The report found that Zinke had brought his wife with him on department boat travel, with a sign off from the DOI's solicitor general's office, but that on other occasions the Zinke family had reimbursed the DOI for family travel. It also found that Zinke's staff looked into making Lolita a volunteer, apparently in order to get around travel restrictions, though Zinke denies that was the reason. She was not eventually given volunteer status.
The report further found that Zinke took non-government guests on a National Park Service boat through the Channel Islands in California, including two who had hosted a fundraiser for Zinke's 2014 Congressional bid and one whose family had owned property in the islands. At the time, they were classified as "stakeholders," so weren't asked to reimburse the department, but ethics officials at the time were not aware of their ties to Zinke's campaign or the land they were viewing, The Hill reported.
Interior spokesperson Heather Swift said the report largely showed that Zinke had not done anything wrong.
"The Inspector General report proves what we have known all along: the secretary follows all relevant laws and regulations and that all of his travel was reviewed and approved by career ethics officials and solicitors prior to travel," she said.
But the Sierra Club cast doubt on that interpretation, saying that Zinke was merely shifting the blame.
"Even Scott Pruitt resigned before he could be fired, but Zinke doesn't even have that sense of decency," Brune said. Zinke is selling-out our public lands to corporate polluters, using his power to enrich himself, and ripping off the public by wasting their tax dollars. It's time Donald Trump fires Ryan Zinke, not give him a chance to engage in a Washington cover-up."
The report came the same day that Interior officials denied reports from Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that a Trump appointee from HUD, Suzanne Israel Tufts, was headed to DOI to lead the Inspector General's Office, The Hill reported.
Good government advocates had worried that a political appointee could interfere with the integrity of the investigations into Zinke currently underway.
"Why replace an acting Inspector General with a political appointee who has no government oversight experience?" Director of Public Policy with the Project on Government Oversight Elizabeth Hempowicz asked The Washington Post.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Mancini
On Aug. 18, Iceland held a funeral for the first glacier lost to climate change. The deceased party was Okjökull, a historic body of ice that covered 14.6 square miles (38 square kilometers) in the Icelandic Highlands at the turn of the 20th century. But its glory days are long gone. In 2014, having dwindled to less than 1/15 its former size, Okjökull lost its status as an official glacier.
By Alex Schwartz
Among the many vendors at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18 sat three young people peddling neither organic vegetables, gourmet cheese nor handmade crafts. Instead, they offered liberation from capitalism.
I’m a Psychotherapist – Here’s What I’ve Learned From Listening to Children Talk About Climate Change
By Caroline Hickman
Eco-anxiety is likely to affect more and more people as the climate destabilizes. Already, studies have found that 45 percent of children suffer lasting depression after surviving extreme weather and natural disasters. Some of that emotional turmoil must stem from confusion — why aren't adults doing more to stop climate change?
For the past seven years, the Anishinaabe people have been facing the largest tar sands pipeline project in North America. We still are. In these dying moments of the fossil fuel industry, Water Protectors stand, prepared for yet another battle for the water, wild rice and future of all. We face Enbridge, the largest pipeline company in North America, and the third largest corporation in Canada. We face it unafraid and eyes wide open, for indeed we see the future.
By Mara Dolan
We see the effects of the climate crisis all around us in hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and rising sea levels, but our proximity to these things, and how deeply our lives are changed by them, are not the same for everyone. Frontline groups have been leading the fight for environmental and climate justice for centuries and understand the critical connections between the climate crisis and racial justice, economic justice, migrant justice, and gender justice. Our personal experiences with climate change are shaped by our experiences with race, gender, and class, as the climate crisis often intensifies these systems of oppression.