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Zinke says 30% of Interior Department employees are ‘not loyal to the flag’

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke hailed President Donald Trump’s anti-regulation agenda on Monday, telling a Washington, D.C. audience that the ongoing overhaul of federal rules governing the energy industry is unprecedented.

“I don’t think the country has ever had a president like this,” Zinke told a meeting of the National Petroleum Council. “Quite frankly, I’m not sure this country is ever going to have another president like this.”

The Trump administration has focused on repealing environmental regulations and reducing barriers to fossil fuel development across the country, including on public lands.

Zinke said that cabinet secretaries are measured through anti-regulatory goals. “We are monitored by metrics, how many regulations we’ve whacked, how fast,” he said.

Interior is also shifting towards treating fossil fuel industries as “partners,” he said. When he assumed leadership earlier this year, Zinke said he encountered agencies within the Department of the Interior that did not want to work with the energy industry. “I had a Fish and Wildlife [Service] that hated people to a degree. We are now in the business of being partners rather than adversaries. And that’s a cultural shift,” Zinke said.

It hasn’t always been well received by staff, either. Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, said he thinks that he “got 30 percent of the crew that’s not loyal to the flag. It’s literally like capturing a prize ship at sea and only the captain and the first mate roll over.”

The Interior Department has about 70,000 employees. About 70 are political appointees.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who was also a featured speaker at the National Petroleum Council meeting, echoed Zinke’s message that the new administration is different. When Trump arrived in Washington, he brought a “pro-freedom philosophy,” Perry said. The Trump administration wants to let oil and gas companies drill and build energy infrastructure without the federal government standing in the way.

“We began a drive to remove regulatory barriers,” Perry told the mostly friendly audience. “It’s sending the message across this country: We’re going to free you from regulatory restraint, regulatory burden.”

The National Petroleum Council serves as a federal advisory committee to the Energy Department that operates with private funding. It contains about 175 members appointed by the secretary of Energy. The council also commissions reports on the U.S. oil and gas industry on a regular basis.

The conversation was briefly interrupted by climate protesters who challenged Perry’s departmental priorities of expanding the production and use of fossil fuels. The Trump administration has rolled back or proposed rolling back the bulk of the previous administration’s actions to address climate change.

“Scientists agree that climate change causes warm air that leads to moisture that makes storms like Harvey and Irma deadly. People’s lives are on the line. What will you do to address climate change to make sure that these storms don’t keep happening?” one protester asked.

Another protester asked Perry if he is going to say anything about cutting carbon pollution. “Are you listening to America’s scientists and America’s military leaders?” he asked.

Perry has denied the role of carbon dioxide in global warming and contends that it is not an issue. At a DOE budget hearing in June, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) informed Perry that scientists have concluded that “humans are entirely the cause” of recent warming, to which Perry responded, “I don’t believe it” and “I don’t buy it.”

In response to the protesters’ comments at the National Petroleum Council meeting, Perry countered that greater access to energy supplies has saved lives. “Maybe that would be a good thing for the folks who stood up in the back of this room to think about,” he said, addressing the oil and gas representatives. “You’re involved with an industry that saves lives, lots of them, every year around the globe.”

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